Features and Columns · Movies

Loony Tunes: A Look At Hollywood’s Favorite Movie Bird Call

Sometimes capturing an eery vibe is more important than accurate migratory patterns.
Sound Design Bird Call: On Golden Pond Loons
By  · Published on November 3rd, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the prevalence of the loon sound effect in cinema.


The common loon call is the Wilhelm scream of bird calls. Once you know what to listen for, you’ll start to hear it everywhere.

Unlike the Wilhelm scream (which sublimated from a stock sound effect to Hollywood’s inside joke), the common loon call has its own intrinsic draw. Namely: a mournful, unearthly, ominous sound. It is, in other words, used to add a little bit of flavor to a soundscape: to make the outdoors feel especially outdoorsy or to make an alien planet feel all that more alien. Loons are a key player in sonic ambiance. So what if Hollywood deploys the loon call in all manner of preposterous locations?

Loons mostly live in Canada, love lakes, and have very particular migratory patterns. It’s possible that one of the very few films to accurately feature loons is 1981’s On Golden Pond, which also might be responsible for kicking off Hollywood’s loon obsession in the first place. “Um, actually…”s usually rub us the wrong way around these parts, but birders are just so dang charming. Plus, if Hollywood is going to use the bird call, you might as well appreciate it for what it actually is, right?

The video essay below digs into the cinematic ubiquity of the common loon call, what the specific call you hear on-screen actually means to loons, and the music theory behind why the sound strikes us as so melancholic and strange.

Watch “Why Hollywood loves this creepy bird call”:


Who made this?

This video about the use of loon calls in movie sound design is by Vox, an American news website owned by Vox Media, founded in 2014. Vox produces videos on news, culture, and everything in between. This video was produced by Marie Cascione with editing by David Yim and story editing by Bridgett Henwood. You can subscribe to Vox on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).