The situation depicted in this story consciously recalls wartime. The constant aerial attacks by the birds engender a siege mentality in the humans. Nat and his family are obliged to hide in their house, and to board up windows and doors. The first time he does this Nat remembers doing the same thing during the Second World War, which was still very fresh in the memory at the time this story was first published (1952).
It reminded him of the old days, at the beginning of the war. He was not married then, and he had made all the blackout boards for his mother’s house in Plymouth.
Wartime references are scattered throughout the story. Another example is when at one point, the birds temporarily cease their attack and Nat thinks of it as a 'lull in battle':
Forces regrouping. Wasn’t that what they called it in the old wartime bulletins?
Man versus Nature quotes
The theme of man versus nature is of course the central one of the story, and plays out most dramatically in the course of the plot. At first, many humans simply don’t realize the seriousness of the situation. This is evident in the initial reaction of Nat’s neighbour, Farmer Trigg, who remarks jocularly that he will be going on a seagull hunt and invites Nat to join:
Why don’t you stop behind and join the shooting match? We’ll make the feathers fly.
This quote shows how, at this stage, the farmer still views events as being of a traditional, natural order where humans hold the power against the birds and make sport out of shooting them. Trigg does not yet realize (although Nat does) that now it is the birds who have the upper hand, as they are attacking in such concerted numbers. This is something new; a reversal of traditional roles. Man can no longer go around shooting birds as he pleases.
Another quote occurs at the end of the story, which finds Nat in contemplative mood as he gazes out at the birds, reflecting on how the birds have gained 'this instinct to destroy mankind with all the deft precision of machines'. The birds here appear utterly remorseless and unstoppable, attacking humans with the deadly efficiency of machines. But they are not machines; it is instinct driving them, they still remain a natural force that now threatens to overwhelm the humans who have so often dominated them in the past.
The fear of the newly formed Communist Soviet Union, and also Communist China, was strong in the West at the time that the story was written – the time of the Cold War. Western nations were often paranoiac about the perceived threat from those eastern Communist states. There was fear that the Communists might mount an attack. This is reflected in 'The Birds' in the gossip going around that the Russians have had something to do with the birds’ behaviour, as reported by Farmer Trigg.
They’re saying in town the Russians have done it. The Russians have poisoned the birds.
This shows how quick people are to blame the Russians, the Communists, for anything that goes wrong. Communist states appeared to many in the West as an alien, incomprehensible and menacing system, like the strange behaviour of the birds in this story. It is often mentioned that the change in the birds’s behaviour has something to do with a cold weather front from the east, which can obviously can be taken as symbolic of the supposed Communist threat.