Taylor Swift’s ’Bird Incident’ Is Just the Latest Example of How Filming Disrupts Birds

The singer’s production crew got into hot water when filming near the endangered New Zealand dotterel. It's not the first time Hollywood and habitat have clashed.

Last week, Taylor Swift filmed a new music video on New Zealand’s Bethells Beach—and things got heated when local conservationists complained that the excessive number of vehicles present might have disturbed an endangered species.

The problem with Swift’s exotic locale is that the sandy shores already house a celebrity of sorts: endangered New Zealand dotterels (aka Southern Red-breasted Plover), of which fewer than 2,000 individuals remain in the wild. Each September, these auburn-chested plovers hide their eggs in the sand amid shells and ocean debris, making them extremely hard to spot. And after a month of incubation, the newly hatched chicks roam the shoreline for the next 12-18 months, so the area is basically a bird nursery year-round.

Cherokee Films, Swift’s production team for the video shoot, was given permission to bring two vehicles onto the beach, but instead used about a dozen (reportedly including vans and four-wheel drives). Conservationists like Sandra Coney, from the Waitakere Ranges Local Board, claim that this could have disrupted the dotterel’s nesting sites and that the vehicles may have even run over and crushed the hard-to-see nests without knowing it. While Swift was absolved of all wrong doing by her film team, it’s still unclear if birds were harmed: Cherokee Films is currently working with the Auckland organization that issued their permit to resolve the problem (the company also released a statement claiming that no birds were harmed and promised to make a monetary donation to dotterel conservation efforts).

This is not the first time birds have butted heads with Hollywood: Just last year, the film crew of Star Wars Episode VII was admonished after they accidentally disrupted rare birds mating on an island in Ireland. Production teams often seek out remote areas for their make-believe worlds, but it's these spots that tend to host rare species, and are most vulnerable to disruption. Driving on fragile beaches can have serious ramifications for nesting birds, which is why the permit system exists in the first place. 

Cameras and conservationists don’t have to clash—production companies should take a lesson from the bird-friendly creation of Lord of the Rings, which filmed in more than 100 locations throughout New Zealand with minimal disturbance to the environment—they even shot all helicopter-filmed scenes from the same angle to avoid disturbing nesting birds on one side of a mountain. The film franchise worked extensively with local experts to navigate the environmental complexities—read all about some of the weird solutions they came up with here.

And when it comes to sharing the beach with birds, here are more tips for popstars and regular beach-goers alike.