Culture

A Field Guide to the Birds of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Yes, there are birds in the latest movie, and yes, I IDed them.


If you haven’t seen the new Star Wars movie yet, you’re missing out. It’s good. Lots of action, lots of laughs, and lots of returning characters. Also, thankfully, no Jar Jar.

If you look closely, though, you’ll see some new creatures that, as far as I can tell, have never appeared on screen in any Star Wars movie before: birds. [Note: I have not actually rewatched the prequels to confirm the presence or absence of birds. Sorry, not sorry—feel free to tell me all about any Star Wars avians I’ve missed in the comments.] Sure, the original trilogy had flying creatures—mynocks in the asteroid space worm, some weird things flying over the swamp in Dagobah—but nothing with actual feathers until now.

I’ve seen The Force Awakens twice now (FYI: 3D was better than IMAX), and as far as I can tell, “birds” (some seem more flesh-and-blood than others) appear in three separate scenes. Here’s what you should be looking for.

Jakku Chukar

In one of the very first scenes of the movie, that ol’ beret-on-a-soccer-ball BB-8 looks out into the Jakku night and sees a bunch of stormtrooper-bearing First Order ships coming in for a landing. As BB-8 turns and rolls down a dune to warn Poe Dameron and Lor San Tekka, he parts a flock of waddling, black creatures. Birds? I think they’re birds!

Chunky and upright, they looked like some kind of chukar to me. Chukar do well in arid landscapes and make perfect sense as a domestic bird on Jakku. So let’s call them the Jakku Chukar.

Jakku Scavenge Vulture

Just a few short scenes later, we get the clearest shot of a bird in any Star Wars movie to date. As Rey zooms across the desert on her speeder bike, a vulture appears (at first it’s in the foreground but it disappears as the camera moves from left to right). Yup, a huge-beaked, bare-necked, ragged-looking vulture.

It’s only on screen for a second or two, and correct me if I’m wrong, but the bird appears to be just slamming its beak against a big hunk of metallic space junk. I was better prepared for this scene the second time around, so I tried to see if it was supposed to be eating something, but really it looked like it was just smashing itself against the metal. Odd behavior if you ask me, but nonetheless, great cameo by what I’m calling the Jakku Scavenge Vulture.

Ahch-To Gannet, Ahch-To Bald Eagle, and Lund’s Petrels

The final scene of the film is the birdiest, and that makes sense because it was filmed on the Irish isle of Skellig Michael and caused a heap of bird-controversy. According to local conservation groups, a cast and crew of 180 spent two weeks on the island, potentially disrupting nesting colonies of kittiwakes, storm-petrels, shearwaters, and puffins.

Disrupted or not, only one of these Earth-bound birds actually appeared in the final cut.  Large, white birds can be seen (sort of) in the background of several shots as Rey climbs to the top of the unnamed (for now) island on the planet we now know is called Ahch-To. According to the eBird hotspot for the Skellig Islands, there are several white birds on the islands—Black-legged Kittiwakes, Northern Fulmar, a couple gulls—but only one that looked just right to me: Northern Gannets.

Another familiar bird makes a cameo here, though only by call. When Rey first sets foot on the island, the unmistakable laugh-call of the Bald Eagle can be heard in the background. (I want to believe that this is an intentional Easter egg from JJ Abrams, as it’s become a cliche in Hollywood for an eagle’s call to actually be that of a Red-tailed Hawk. Well played, Mr. Abrams.)

Last but not least, there’s another bird species zooming around on the island. They’re dark—black or brown—and smaller than the white gannets that appear in the distance. They’re a kind of petrel, I’d say. Unlike the gannets, however, I think these birds are computer-generated additions, because they don’t look very distinctive and because most real brown seabirds on Skellig Michael—European Storm-petrels, most likely—would be far out to sea during daylight hours, when these scenes were shot. No, I think these are a new species, unknown to us Earthlings. So, as the first to describe them, let me humbly submit a name: Lund’s Petrel. 

I’m not yet totally sure if I’ll go back for round three in the theaters, so if you pick up on anything I’ve missed, holler at me here or @TheBirdist

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the name of the planet on which Luke is hiding out. Also, the first two birds now have names! Some Force Awakens concept-art book that just came out that gives the vulture the name Steelpecker (also a good bird porn name) and calls the little chukar birds Bloggins.