Birds Aren’t Real: Explaining the Bizarre Meme That Flies a Little Too Close to Home

birds aren't real

Birds aren’t real. They are, in fact, government surveillance drones that American authorities have been secretly disseminating throughout the country to spy on its citizens. Same goes for birds in Russia, China, and, yep, here in Aus too.

This devious plot was first undertaken in 1976 and has resulted in the mass extinction of real avian life. All birds must be treated with a high degree of suspicion.

This is the doctrine of the Birds Aren’t Real movement, a dedicated satire cooked up by a bunch of American high school students in 2017.

In the past five years, the ‘conspiracy theory’ has taken off on social media, particularly amongst the Gen Z/TikTok crowd who have adopted the idea in certain circles as a parody of the information-saturated era that they’ve grown up in.

They currently have nearly 400 thousand Instagram followers while their YouTube channel has racked up millions of views. Real-life protests and rallies have formed while the group now has multiple chapters across the United States. They’ve even crowdfunded billboards in three states proclaiming that “birds aren’t real.”


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A post shared by Birds Aren’t Real (@birdsarentreal)

Their proponents have an answer to everything, including ‘what the hell are you on about?’ and ‘I see real birds all the time’. Their website is meticulously crafted, with detailed explainer pages and its own line of merch. ‘Bird Truthers’ stick very closely to the script in the handful of TV interviews they’ve been invited on.

What ‘Birds Aren’t Real’ Believe

According to their website, the US Government committed “genocide” against 12 billion birds, starting in 1959 through to 2001, replacing them over decades with robotic replicas “which still watch us every day.” Birds, as a biological life form, no longer exist.

Eggs are synthetic replicas, bird poop is a tracking device (given it often falls on cars and people), while meat and the internals of birds are also synthetic. They view them more as organic computers imitating real life, rather than “metallic machines with gears and wires.”

They claim that “the bird drone problem exists in other countries as well” but that the US government is trying to keep its own operations a secret.

While the ‘movement’ is more confined to the US, it has its Australian ‘truthers’, too. The NSW brewery Mountain Culture has even released an ‘experimental’ pale ale bearing the movement’s name.

Why Is ‘Birds Aren’t Real’ So Popular?

In part, because it’s funny. It’s a hyper-realistic style of comedy that verges ever so close to reality that people can’t help but stare. It’s the same reason that a lot of Sacha Baron-Cohen’s work was funny — we like watching people who aren’t in on the joke struggle to make sense of what’s happening.


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A post shared by Birds Aren’t Real (@birdsarentreal)

Another reason that it works is because the idea that something so outlandish as ‘all birds are surveillance drones’ could gain followers in 2022 is depressingly believable. After all, we have a former US President still claiming that the election was rigged and stolen from him, as well as deeply bizarre theories that Trump is some sort of messiah figure sent to save the world from satanic paedophiles with the help of JFK. Yes, the one who was shot and killed in 1963.

At the forefront is Peter McIndoe, now 24, who thought it would be funny to attend a protest carrying a totally unrelated sign to the aims of the demonstration. He wrote ‘Birds Aren’t Real’ and started trying to play up to the idea when questioned. It seemed to catch on from there.

McIndoe posted on Facebook in 2017 that he “made a satirical movement a few months ago, and people on Instagram seem to like it a lot. Now there’s a Facebook so the moms of the current ‘bird truthers’ can be in on it too.”

Since then, McIndoe has gone full method actor, claiming that the previous post was written by a disgruntled staffer. He dons a white cowboy hat and gets around in a navy suit, sounding for all the world like someone who has spent way, way too much time online.

Here he is telling a local news network in the US that “its kind of offensive” they would question his sincerity:

Much of what McIndoe says however is ripped straight from the conspiracy theory playbook. The same one used by those who really doubt the truth of climate change, COVID, and the US election.

“I don’t know why the other side of the argument can’t be treated with equal respect,” he says, pointing to the issue of false equivalence held in many media outlets that, by presenting the ‘alternative’ to highly evidenced beliefs, put these ‘alternatives’ on par with the consensus.

That realism however could only hold out for so long. In a 2021 interview with The New Yrok Times, McIndoe came clean about the bit in order to stop it from going too far and to turn critical attention to what the movement has managed to achieve.

He spoke about the need for the younger generation to express their concerns about the way the world is going and the everyday madness that seems to permeate our reality.

“A lot of people in our generation feel the lunacy in all this, and Birds Aren’t Real has been a way for people to process that,” he said.

Another member, Claire Chronis, told the publication that the organisation is basically “fighting lunacy with lunacy.”

McIndoe, speaking as himself and not his conspiracy personality, has said that he was simply parodying those he grew up around. Born into a deeply conservative and religious community in Cincinnati before moving to rural Arkansas, he has said that he was seriously aught that “evolution was a massive brainwashing plan by the Democrats and Obama was the Antichrist.”

By flipping the narrative, taking something so unbelievable and leaning into it as hard as possible, McIndoe argues that he was able to understand and laugh at some of the serious absurdity that he was surrounded by.

Given its vast popularity with Gen Z, it seems the feeling is not uncommon. This is a generation who have grown up on the internet, exposed to all kinds of wild beliefs, who have been told since they were young that the planet is dying and that adults are doing basically nothing about it. Greta Thunberg responded with sincerity, McIndoe just wanted to laugh at the whole thing.

Now that the Birds Aren’t Real narrative has come out from behind the curtain, it’s much easier to engage with the concept and see it for what it is; an “experiment in misinformation,” as McIndoe put it.

The fact that it spread so far, resonated with so many people, and took in serious journalists speaks to the dangers and the absurdity of mass communication as well as the need for greater critical awareness. It’s somewhat of a relief however to know that at least one mental conspiracy theory is just a joke.

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