Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Norman Bates' screech owl in Entertainment Weekly

My family subscribes to Entertainment Weekly, since we're all fascinated with movies. This week's online issue includes a quiz to identify movie props that includes a stuffed bird. In the paper copy of the magazine, it tells something about this cool artifact:
Stuffed Owl
As if the Bates Motel weren't creepy enough, director Alfred Hitchcock posed this stuffed owl among other mounted animals in Norman Bates' parlor to amplify the sense of menace. Universal Studios archivist Jeff Pirtle, who now tends to the creature along with a stuffed seagull [sic] from The Birds, says it's in surprisingly good condition, given that the film debuted in 1960. "It was preserved using arsenic," Pirtle explains. Somehow, when you're talking about a Hitchcock prop, a dose of arsenic seems fitting.
Arsenic was often used for preserving birds that are now in museum drawers. This screech-owl looks pretty ragged, but really is in pretty good condition, considering it was supposedly stuffed by an aspiring taxidermist who was getting practice before stuffing his raison d'être. Can anyone tell which species it is?