Are Birds Real? Are Pigeons Real? If It Flies It Spies?!

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Dec 06, 2023

From billboards in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh to protests outside of X to change its blue bird logo, many “bird truthers” who follow the “Birds Aren’t Real” movement are poking fun at a world dominated by propaganda.

Are birds real? If not, then what are birds? Let’s discover the truth and what the “Birds Aren’t Real” movement is about.

Why Do People Think Birds Aren’t Real? 

Birds Aren’t Real is a Gen Z conspiracy that believes that living birds are really surveillance drones installed by the United States government to spy on Americans. The movement, which has gained traction with bird memes and a Birds Aren’t Real shirt depicting fake birds with cameras for heads, started in 2017.

Flock of Pigeons

Credit: Sadi Gökpınar/Pexels

According to the Birds Aren’t Real history, the “targets” were eliminated between 1959 and 1971 with specially altered B-52 bombers stocked with poison. They were then replaced with bird robots that could be used to surveil Americans.


Is Birds Aren’t Real an Internet Joke or Something More?

The idea of “if it flies, it spies” is not one based on truth. Instead, the movement is purely ironic. The followers know Birds Aren’t Real is a joke that a politically divided American can all laugh at together.

A man holding a "Birds Aren't Real" signs

Credit: 60 Minutes

To those who “believe,” Birds Aren’t Real is just as real as QAnon, a right-wing conspiracy theory turned marketing ploy that suggests secret codes are embedded in the news.

Leaning to the Absurdism of the Post-Truth Era

“It’s a way to combat troubles in the world that you don’t really have other ways of combating,” The New York Times reported Claire Chronis, a Birds Aren’t Real organizer in Pittsburgh, saying at a protest. “My favorite way to describe the organization is fighting lunacy with lunacy.”


Source: Madeline Houston/courtesy of Birds Aren’t Real

No one is questioning if a pigeon is real, but it is funny to question what information is being presented as truth. That was the intended goal of the conspiracy theory’s chief believer.

Who Started the Birds Aren’t Real Movement?

Peter McIndoe became the conspiracy theory’s chief believer and founder, advocating for followers to rage against anyone who believes that birds are real.

A crowd of Birds Aren't Real protesting

Source: Birds Aren't Real

McIndoe grew up in a deeply conservative and religious community in rural Arkansas. He told The New York Times that he was taught that “evolution was a massive brainwashing plan by the Democrats and Obama was the Antichrist,” and read books like “Remote Control,” which said there were hidden anti-Christianity messages from Hollywood in films and TV.

Social Media’s Role in the Truth

Social media became Peter McIndoe’s place to find different perspectives and the complexities of modern truths. “I was raised by the internet, because that’s where I ended up finding a lot of my actual real-world education, through documentaries and YouTube,” McIndoe said to The New York Times. “My whole understanding of the world was formed by the internet.”

Person Holding Smartphone

Source: Engin Akyurt/Pexels

While visiting friends in Memphis in January 2017, a women’s march was interrupted by pro-Trump counterprotesters. McIndoe joined that chaos by ripping a poster off a wall and writing “Birds Aren’t Real” on the back.


How Did the Idea of Birds Aren’t Real Take Off? 

The Birds Aren’t Real conspiracy lore is rooted in the idea that birds had been replaced with remote control birds in the 1970s. On the day Peter McIndoe held up the poster, someone unknowingly filmed him and posted the video on Facebook, where it went viral.

Peter McIndoe speaks at SESSION 4 at TED2023: Possibility in Vancouver, BC, Canada

Credit: Jasmina Tomic/TED

As the idea grew, McIndoe leaned into Birds Aren’t Real by embodying activist leaders and writing a false history of the movement, elaborate theories, and fake documents and evidence to support his claims with a friend, Connor Gaydos.


Do People Really Believe That Birds Aren’t Real?

So do people actually think birds aren’t real? Of course not! The ethos around the Birds Aren’t Real movement is to experiment with misinformation. Connor Gaydos told The New York Times, “If anyone believes birds aren’t real, we’re the last of their concerns, because then there’s probably no conspiracy they don’t believe.”

Flock of Birds on Cable Wire Near Brown Concrete Building

Source: Frantisek Duris Frantisek Duris/Pexels

While internet culture and online radicalization are real problems the youth are experiencing, the leaders behind the Birds Aren’t Real movement have made sure that the conspiracy doesn’t tip into a place where it could have a negative impact on the world.


Why Does Gen Z Believe That Birds Aren’t Real? 

The experiment has become a collaborative way for Gen Z to reflect on the absurdity of the world around them without causing any harm. Or, as Lily Francois writes for Diggit Magazine, “Conspiracy theories take an ambivalent relationship to the truth and are based on feelings and identity rather than on facts. … These ‘fake’ theories provide a sense of security, as they explain the unexplained and comfortably fill a void for the lost searcher in place.”

Birds Aren't Real protest

Source: Birds Aren't Real

But the movement itself wants you to question everyone. The movement encourages everyone to work on American media literacy to see what is truth and what is propaganda.


Americans Lack the Media Literacy to See What’s Real

In 2022, Media Literacy Now partnered with the Reboot Foundation and found that only 42% of people learned about science literacy, critical thinking, and media literacy, which are associated with belief in discredited conspiracy theories, in school.

Person Using Cellphone

Source: Athena/Pexels

While a majority of the population believes that media literacy is needed, no one is doing anything to promote it. That’s where Birds Aren’t Real comes in.


The Era of Post-Truth Politics Fuels the Gen Z Movement 

Birds Aren’t Real feeds into this era of post-truth politics that we are living in. In post-truth politics, facts are considered irrelevant and decisions are largely guided by negative feelings.

Two crows eating on a table

Source: Alexas Fotos/Pexels

Opinions and personal truths are commonplace largely thanks to the rise of social media. To break free of the echo chambers of our own creation, fact-checking is essential. To say that bird drones are flying around is absurd, but someone will start to believe it is true if they hear it enough.


Birds Aren’t Real Asks You to Think Critically

The Birds Aren’t Real movement is a satirical take on the misinformation and propaganda that everyone interacts with daily. This is a reminder that everyone should be critical about the information you consume and the sources from which information is pulled.

Peter McIndoe and his Bird Aren't Real van

Source: Peter McIndoe/Instagram

In a world where truth is increasingly distorted, the Birds Aren’t Real movement encourages us to question everything and never settle for the easy answer.