Fact Check: Does Turkey Earthquake Video Show Birds Acting Strange Before?

Animals have long been said to be able to sense if a disaster is about to occur, alerting humans to oncoming danger.

One viral video taken just before the tragic 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed over 7,800 people across Turkey and Syria, per a Reuters report, purports to show this to be true.

The footage captures a flock of birds acting erratically and rapidly landing in the branches of trees allegedly moments before the disaster began.

turkey earthquake video
Syrian rescuers and civilians shift through the rubble of a collapsed building on February 7, 2023, in the town of Jandairis after the earthquake. A viral video appears to show birds acting strangely before the earthquake hits. Photo by BAKR ALKASEM/AFP via Getty Images

The Claim

The video was posted to Reddit by user u/Solonik70, captioned "Birds acting weird just before the earthquake in Turkey," and received over 18,400 upvotes.

The birds can be seen flying around in circles and descending en masse into the nearby trees, turning the treetops black as they gathered together.

"They're able to sense the small warning signs that humans can't, same as animals know when storms are approaching and eat what they can before hunkering down to ride the storm out," said one Reddit user's comment with more than 1,100 upvotes.

The Facts

There has been reference to animals sensing earthquakes before they happen for thousands of years, with the first recorded mention of this phenomenon describing rats, weasels, snakes, and centipedes reportedly migrating to safety several days before a destructive earthquake in Greece in 373 BC, a U.S. Geological Survey report says.

This might not be so far from the truth: One 2020 study published in the journal Ethology found that electronically tagged cows, dogs, and sheep on an Italian farm were "superactive" before seven of eight major earthquakes that occurred nearby, moving continuously for more than 45 minutes.

"We have a very good indication that animals really feel the precursors of earthquakes, and it's not seismic activity," Martin Wikelski, a director at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and author of that study, told the Washington Post.

"The cows initially just froze—they didn't move at all. And then that got the dogs really nervous, and they started to go crazy, barking. And then the sheep went crazy. And that started, altogether, to make the cows really crazy."

Animals may be able to detect the shockwaves that come before the more powerful waves that cause the earthquake's damage. The U.S. Geological Survey describes how these less powerful primary "P" waves are produced by the earthquake first, traveling rapidly away from the quake site, followed later by the more powerful secondary "S" waves. It is thought that the P waves may be what animals are sensing. However, S waves usually arrive less than a minute after the P wave.

However, other research into this topic has found the evidence for animals' ability to detect earthquakes to be inconclusive.

One review of 700 recorded claims of abnormal animal behavior just prior to earthquakes published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America in 2018 noted that a lot of the evidence was too anecdotal to be entirely reliable.

Additionally, birds tend to take flight during earthquakes rather than landing en masse.

"During the shock the birds began to leave the roost, and rose slowly in ascending spirals above the trees to a height of about 140 ft. They then descended slowly and settled noisily in the roost; thereafter throughout the minor shocks they showed no sign of disturbance," described a 1933 Nature article discussing the Long Beach earthquake of March 10, 1933.

Other videos that have previously been said to have been filmed during the earthquake have turned out to be older and from the other side of the world.

The Ruling



There is some evidence supporting the claim that animals can detect earthquakes before the main shockwaves hit.

However, Newsweek was unable to verify the time and date of the video posted to reddit, nor that it captured the activity of birds just before the earthquake struck in Turkey or Syria, or that it was even filmed in the same area affected by the natural disaster.

Additionally, birds usually take flight during earthquakes, rather than landing as seen in the video.

We therefore rate this claim as unverified.


Do you have an animal or nature story to share with Newsweek? Do you have a question about animals and earthquakes? Let us know via science@newsweek.com.

Unverified: The claim could be true or false, but there is at the time of publication insufficient publicly-available evidence to prove so either way. The claim should be treated with caution and skepticism until more evidence becomes available to make a conclusive determination.
Read more about our ratings.