Kick up your feet, grab some popcorn, and get comfortable because it’s movie time. Since birds are fun, entertaining, and compelling creatures in real life, it’s easy to see why birds make such great movie subjects.
However, compared with well-trodden movie subjects like pirates, ghosts, and boxers, there’s a dearth of really great films about birds. Fortunately, there are a few that are fun to watch and great for the family.
This list is completely subjective and forgoes some of the popular animated films that feature birds like Rio and Chicken Little, but this is a place to start for those looking to watch a good bird movie. Let us know if we missed any in the comments.
The Big Year (2011)
With an all-star cast of Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson, The Big Year was touted as the movie that would offer a positive and attractive look into the world of birding. Unfortunately, expectations were too high and the movie fell short in many ways (both birders and non-birders were a little disappointed).
Still, The Big Year is a fun, family movie that’s thoroughly enjoyable. As long as you’re not watching with a critical birding eye, you’ll laugh and maybe even shed a tear.
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
Yes, this film is old and in black and white, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from watching it. Birdman of Alcatraz is a fictionalized version of the life of Robert Stroud—a prisoner who became a respected ornithologist by rearing birds in prison.
The story is fascinating and Burt Lancaster is absorbing. Even though the real Robert Stroud was a murderer and psychopath, birds have actually been used to teach prisoners responsibility and empathy.
Legends of the Guardians: Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)
This 2010 animated film is an interesting addition. It didn’t fair so well in terms of reviews, but it features a much darker and more menacing tone than you might expect from an animated film. The owls, which are a mythic band of guardians against evil, are the main characters of the movie. There’s kidnapping, battles, and violence, which may not be suitable for very young kids.
Regardless what the reviews say about the story, the consensus from everyone who watches this movie is that the visuals are astounding.
March of the Penguins (2005)
The March of the Penguins is one of the highest rated documentaries of all time, so it must have done something right. This film follows the lives, struggles, and accomplishments of Emperor Penguins. It will make you laugh, and it will make you cry. Is there anything more you can ask of a movie?
Paulie came out in the ’90s when live-action talking animals were all the rage (re: Babe, Gordy, Homeward Bound, etc.). This movie capitalizes off that popularity with a talking parrot named Paulie. Many of the movies that came out around that time were subpar, but there is something fun and thoroughly sad about the movie that makes it so compelling. It stars Tony Shalhoub and Cheech Marin.
This is another fantastic movie for the family, and I adored it as a kid. However, be prepared for some waterworks.
Birders: The Central Park Effect (2012)
This hour-long HBO documentary follows the intense and unique world of birders in New York. You’d think the big city wouldn’t be a great place for birding, but there’s a whole subculture around birding in NYC. People even schedule their lives around bird migration—that time when a variety of species pass directly through Central Park. It’ll definitely draw you in.
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2003)
Yet another documentary, this follows the relationship between a guy and a flock of feral parrots. The 2005 award-winning doc was pretty much universally acclaimed for its unique look at man and nature. I have yet to see this one, but I had to include it based on its reputation.
Fly Away Home (1996)
This is a touching tale based on the experiences of Bill Lishman, who used a small plane to train geese to migrate. Starring Jeff Daniels and a young Anna Paquin, the movie is about a father and daughter who take care of a flock of abandoned geese. Along with the heartwarming story, this explores some interesting themes about abandonment.
Fly Away Home is great for the whole family.
Winged Migration (2003)
Winged Migration is a piece of art. This documentary follows the monumental migration of different species. Shot over four years on all seven continents, the film boasts breathtaking images unlike anything you’ve seen.
Even though it seems like some of the shots had to have been made using computers, those involved state that no special effects were used to film the birds. To demonstrate the commitment, filmmakers actually raised species in order to get the perfect shots.
The film is seventh in gross ticket sales for nature documentaries.
The Birds (1963)
No list of bird movies is complete without the most famous. Alfred Hitchcock’s film has a decidedly different tone and attitude toward birds than the other movies in this list. The birds in The Birds are a nameless, faceless mass of terror. It features a great build-up to the drama and even explores some interesting themes surrounding relationships.