When I was recently watching The Hobbit, I noticed that birds seem to play a fairly large part in the movie, as they had in the book. I have read the unabridged book, and in the second and third movie that are being produced, birds will continue to play an important part in the films. In this article I will discuss the accurate and inaccurate ornithological aspects of the movie.
The first part in the movie that refers to birds is when Fili and Kili have persuaded Bilbo to burgle the troll camp. As Bilbo is going into the camp of the trolls, Fili tells Bilbo that if he runs into trouble he is to "...hoot twice like a barn owl, and once like a screech-owl."
To the person that knows his owl calls fairly well like I do, the first and most obvious flaw with this statement is that neither birds 'hoot'. Barn owls have a screeching call, and screech-owls have a wobbly, high-pitched call which many say sounds like a sound effect that would appear in a creepy movie. As stated below, there are many species of screech owls, and which species Tolkien was referring to is unknown. However, the Eastern Screech Owl is most certainly not the species referred to by Tolkien, as he was English (I need to brush up on my European birds).
Please note that there is no bird just known as the 'Screech Owl'. Though there are many species of screech owls in the world, we cannot be sure which species that Tolkien was referring to when he wrote The Hobbit. Also, none of these species (to the best of my knowledge) has a hooting call, but the Barn Owl certainly does not have a hoot type call. While many people have steriotyped owls to have a hooting call, the only owl that truly 'hoots' (once again, that I know of...) is the Great Horned Owl. A recording of the Great Horned Owl call is posted below.
The next flaw that I found was that later in Mirkwood, the wizard Radagast who lives in the woods and cares for the animals lifted his hat to allow two house swarrows to get to their nest...on his head. But the only problem is that both birds shown were male house sparrows, plus their calls were entirely wrong.
My next point is not a flaw... They actually got the American robin correct. The call, the size, the plumage and everything.
The last error I wish to show is that at the end of the movie, a veery flies by, and one of the dwarves remarks "It is a raven!" (hardly close). Gandalf replies "That my dear fellow, is a thrush!" Gandalf was right. A veery is a thrush, but it's call was entirely wrong. Nothing like a veery call at all, actually. This may have been altered because veery's do not have very pleasant calls, but in that case they should have changed it to a hermit or wood thrush, which have very pleasant songs. These are the main flaws that I found (I don't think that I forgot any).
The makers of the film should have kept in mind that the book was European when adding the birds, but I can hardly blame them. After reading a comment below, I had to edit my article because I failed to keep that exact same point in mind about the owls (oops...).
Since the title of my article 'How movies are ornithologically inaccurate', I feel the need to post a disclaimer. I only gave examples from one movie, but I have seen many movies with flaws just like these. I do not have the time to go over any other movies at the moment, but perhaps I will do so some time in the future.