Leader of Viral 'Birds Aren't Real' Movement Swears He's Not Joking

It's no secret that conspiracy theories are spreading like never before, thanks to the internet. Whether they're dangerous and toxic ideologies like QAnon, or outlandish claims that are incorrect but less threatening (think: the flat-Earth theory), conspiracies have become part of the fabric of daily life in America.

One "theory" that seems intentionally nonsensical but is nonetheless gaining traction on social media is the "Birds Aren't Real" movement, which is built around the claim that, well, birds aren't real.

The unsubstantiated theory alleges that, between 1959 and 2001, the government killed off all birds and replaced them with surveillance drones. It's such a bizarre idea that it almost seems like a parody of other conspiracy theories—and it very well might be, despite what the movement's apparent leader insists.

According to its website, the Birds Aren't Real movement started in the 1970s, although its frontman, Peter McIndoe, told Newsweek that it started in the '50s—an inconsistency that might be a sign from McIndoe that the whole thing is one big gag.

Peter McIndoe Birds Aren't Real
Peter McIndoe poses with a sign in front of a billboard that declares "Birds Aren't Real" in Los Angeles, California. Courtesy of Birds Aren't Real

McIndoe portrays the movement as completely serious. Throughout his interview with Newsweek, he remained deadpan and appeared to be improvising as he went along, further blurring the divide between reality and conspiracy. When asked directly whether this is actually an elaborate comedy project, he swore that it's a real thing and that it was just operating underground until the advent of the internet. It should be noted, though, that the only indication that Birds Aren't Real has been around for decades is the history section of its own website.

Of course, it's also worth mentioning that when he was first communicating with Newsweek over email to set up our interview, McIndoe did refer to Birds Aren't Real as a comedy project, whether he realized it or not. "In regards to our movement being a joke, or for real: That is the very question that our post-truth era comedy project thrives within," he wrote.

On the phone, though, McIndoe blamed technological hiccups for any online references to Birds Aren't Real being a prank. "Whenever I type in, 'Real movement, no comedy involved,' it always autocorrects it to something like 'meta-conspiracy parody-movement, showcasing post-truth-era absurdity,'" he said.

McIndoe maintained that the Birds Aren't Real campaign is trying to expose an obvious truth that people simply need to acknowledge. "I think that everyone, deep down, can identify and relate to the fact that we are being surveilled, and that that surveillance is most likely coming from 12 billion birds simultaneously," he said.

McIndoe might not cop to this being a performative piece of satire, but one thing's for sure: Birds Aren't Real has picked up tons of followers.

The Birds Aren't Real Instagram account has about 296,000 followers, and its verified TikTok account has over 353,000 followers. Accounts for regional chapters have even sprung up in places like Idaho and Arkansas, and McIndoe claims there are members of the movement living in every state. It's not clear how many of those people are true believers, and how many of them are interpreting the accounts as a joke.

Bird poop is actually a micro-tracker placed on your car by the government.

— k (@imtheshortone_) March 5, 2021

Some people do leave comments trying to disprove the Birds Aren't Real movement, but other followers appear to be sincerely buying in. With people online seemingly joining the "Bird Brigade," which is what the group's activists call themselves, the line between reality and potential satire becomes alarmingly thin.

The media is in on it with the government. https://t.co/QiXyIF7fRA

— Tatjana Pasalic (@Tattytats) March 1, 2021

While speaking to Newsweek, McIndoe called accusations that the movement is a joke "absurd," and blamed "big tech in bed with the government" for that characterization. Again, though, despite his repeated insistence that the movement is legitimate, occasionally McIndoe would say something that could be read as an acknowledgement that this is all an ambitious bit of comedy.

"That's one of the saddest things, that people consider that this could be some sort of mass-improvisational performance, or some sort of showcasing, highlighting on a new era we've entered into as a society where anything can be true," he explained. "Even if [the movement being satirical] was the case, you really wouldn't even be able to tell."

Some of the Birds Aren't Real content might be humorous (like the claim that bird poop is somehow a tracking apparatus), but McIndoe said that the humor is just a means to reach people. "I think people would mistake that we have comedic intent, because we will tap into these trends, but what people need to understand is things like that on the TikTok are very intentional. The meme is the modern day parable, is what we like to tell the Bird Brigade," he said. "Comedy is the most disarming form of communication."

Birds Aren't Real
Two members of the "Bird Brigade" help spread awareness. Courtesy of Birds Aren't Real

For a succinct summation of the Birds Aren't Real ethos, look no further than a brief YouTube video that claims to hail from 1987. The clip features long-gone tech and Reagan-era fashion, but even with all of the period details and fuzzy picture, the clip's audio feels a bit too crisp for something actually filmed in the late '80s.

At the very least, McIndoe admitted that he could see how a comedy project about conspiracy theories could be cathartic for some people, or add some much-needed levity to an environment where conspiracies are way too prevalent.

"I think if it were a parody movement, that might be a point it was trying to make, or maybe, allowing people to cope with those types of presences in our society in a way where you can come together and laugh about the absurdity of a post-truth era, because it's a horrifying thing," he said. "The thing is, we're not that, though."

If this isn't a comedy project, then the so-called "Bird Brigade" has a long way to go before meeting its supposed goal. "The end to this project would only exist in the case of societal acceptance and shutting down the 12 billion robot birds that currently swarm the skies of our nation," McIndoe said. Again, he was deadpan.