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

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: Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.