At a San Francisco pet store, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedron) meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), who wants to buy a pair of lovebirds for his sister Cathy’s (Veronica Cartwright) 11th birthday. He recognizes Melanie from court but pretends to think she’s a shop employee. He leaves without buying anything. Rather attracted to him, she buys the lovebirds and drives to Bodega Bay, where he lives on a farm with his somewhat domineering mother (Jessica Tandy).

She rents a boat and crosses the bay to leave the lovebirds, but he spots her and drives to town to meet her on the dock. A seagull attacks her, and he tends the wound. He invites her to dinner at the farm and she spends the night, getting to know his family and his ex-girlfriend, Annie Hayworth (Susanne Pleshette). The hens at the farm refuse to eat. There is a violent thud at the door and a dead gull is found on the step.

During the birthday party, the children are injured by gulls. Later, sparrows swarm the house through the chimney. The next day, they find a neighbor an eyeless corpse. Melanie goes to pick up Cathy at school, and a flock of crows lands on the jungle gym. The teachers evacuate the children, and they are all attacked by the crows. There is one of those conversations in the diner, where the locals argue about the meaning of it all, including a scientist who doesn’t believe it and a kook who thinks it’s God’s punishment. A gas station attendant is attacked by gulls and the spilled gasoline explodes, burning down part of the town. Melanie takes shelter in a phone booth and is attacked by birds on all sides. Mitch helps her escape.

They go to Annie’s house and find her body, killed by crows while protecting Cathy. They barricade themselves inside and waves of birds attack the barriers and the doors. They come in through the attic and nearly kill Melanie. As the survivors prepare to drive away to San Francisco, the car-radio reports bird attacks on other towns and say the military has been called in. The car slowly drives away as thousands of birds gather.

The movie, of course, was produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, loosely based on a 1952 story by Daphne du Maurier. It was Tippi Hedron’s screen debut. Evan Hunter wrote the screenplay, embellishing the story extensively. That story was inspired by a real mass bird attack on the town of Capitola, California, in 1961. It turned out it was caused by the birds eating toxic algae. Most of the birds in the movie were real, but $200,000 was spent on mechanical birds. There was very little music. Ub Iwerks of Disney Animation created special effects and received an Oscar for it. It received mixed reviews at the time but is now a much honored classic.

Loudspeakers were hidden in the trees to greet people leaving the preview with the screeches of birds. Hitchcock said that 3,200 birds were used for the film. The ravens were the smartest and the gulls were the most vicious. The seagulls were fed on wheat and whiskey to keep them under control. The schoolhouse was supposed to be haunted. Hitchcock loved it, but the actors were creeped out.

Tippi Hendricks’ daughter Melanie Griffith was given a doll of her mother in a box like a coffin. A bird named Archine hated Rod Taylor and attacked him every chance he got. In 2001, the son of Daphne du Maurier reported being attacked by birds. Tippi Hedron suffered from exhaustion, was injured by glass and birds, and went to the hospital. She reported that she was sexually harassed by Alfred Hitchcock. His sense of humor was known to be cruel at times. But they don’t call him the master of suspense for nothing, and the scary scenes were brilliantly created, building slowly until all hell breaks loose.