San Francisco based socialite Melanie Daniels, whose father is a newspaper publisher and whose mother ran off when Melanie was eleven, used to lead a fast and carefree life, although she is trying now to do useful and meaningful work with her time. The two holdovers from her old life are that fast and loose reputation, and playing practical jokes at whatever cost and whatever expense the outcome. It is on a prank, this time on her, that she officially meets criminal lawyer Mitch Brenner, the prank largely centered on the topic of birds. Wanting to repay him for the prank, Melanie drives to his weekend home up the coast outside the working class community of Bodega Bay to surprise him, there where he lives with his widowed mother and his eleven year old sister, Lydia Brenner and Cathy Brenner. While Cathy likes Melanie, Lydia is distant toward her, much like she is toward any woman interested in Mitch, such as the local schoolteacher, Annie Hayworth, who originally moved to Bodega Bay from San Francisco four years ago as Mitch's girlfriend at the time. The day of Melanie's arrival in Bodega Bay, a number of odd occurrences happen all with respect to birds, one of those incidents being a sole seagull swooping down and giving her one good peck on the head. With Melanie still in town, the bird occurrences become more frequent, massive and violent, they seemingly wanting to kill. Mitch notices that the attacks go in waves and are generally in the same pattern of the birds massing quietly, attacking all of a sudden then disappearing to mass again quietly somewhere else. Melanie and the Brenners have to decide how long to stay in Bodega Bay before it becomes too dangerous, by which time it may be too late.