You read that head­line right. Those birds aren’t real. No birds are real in North America. At least, they aren’t what you think they are — liv­ing crea­tures, the feath­ered, warm-blood­ed avian descen­dants of dinosaurs. 

flock of birds on electric wire under cloudy sky during daytime

What are they then, if not liv­ing animals? 

Drones. All birds in the sky today are human-engi­neered fly­ing sur­veil­lance robots, deployed as the result of a mas­sive cold-war-era US gov­ern­ment scheme to put eyes in the sky — to spy on us all. 

Wait, you say. If that’s true, then where did all the real, liv­ing-and-breath­ing birds go? They were slaugh­tered by our gov­ern­ment. Over 12 bil­lion of them, mer­ci­less­ly dropped from the sky between 1959 and 1971. 

From the after­math of the end of World War II to the Red Scare and the Cold War, efforts to defeat com­mu­nism took the form of increased sur­veil­lance of American cit­i­zens by their own gov­ern­ment. From phone taps to main­tain­ing files on every­one — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elvis, your next-door neigh­bor. The CIA, FBI, and oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies bus­ied them­selves with spy­ing on a good frac­tion of the country. 

One man thought that still was­n’t enough spy­ing to catch all the Commies. Allen Dulles, direc­tor of the C.I.A. from 1953 to 1961, came up with the sin­is­ter plot. Dulles was said to hate birds. One day he fig­ured out a way to kill two birds with one stone — if you’ll par­don the pun. 

Dulles would mur­der them all, from the thumb-sized hum­ming­birds to the great California Condors. This would be done with the approval of none oth­er than President Eisenhower; they would be replaced with top-secret spy drones being devel­oped by Boeing engi­neers in –wait for it — Nevada’s famed “Area 51.” 

The pro­gram was wild­ly suc­cess­ful, so much so that by the ear­ly 1970s, the job was done. Every sin­gle bird was gone — and in their place, the skies over North America were filled with fly­ing spy cam­eras that pre­cise­ly repli­cat­ed the winged crea­tures they had supplanted. 

Don’t believe me? Want proof? Have you ever seen flocks of birds just sit­ting on pow­er lines for long min­utes at a time, doing absolute­ly noth­ing? You know why they do this? They use induc­tive (no-con­tact) charg­ing, like your smart­phone. Those bird-drones sit­ting on pow­er lines are recharg­ing their batteries! 

Probably no one liv­ing today would know about this mas­sive con­spir­a­cy-to-end-all con­spir­a­cies if not for one man: Peter McIndoe. He’s a 23-year-old man from Memphis who quit col­lege to make it his life’s work to warn us about the “birds aren’t real” conspiracy. 

If you’re still read­ing, I hope you’ve worked out that none of the above is true. If you have not, you prob­a­bly believe a num­ber of equal­ly absurd con­spir­a­cy theories. 

The Apollo moon land­ing was faked.

9/11 was an inside job. 

The Earth is flat as a pancake.

Jews (or Atheists, or Satanists) are eat­ing our babies.

The 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was rigged.

Take your pick. The real pur­pose behind the “Birds aren’t real” move­ment start­ed by Peter McIndoe is to reveal the absur­di­ty of folks who will blind­ly accept con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries that have no plau­si­bil­i­ty, let alone any real evi­dence to back up their ridicu­lous claims. 

The move­ment even has its own web­site.

Much like the car­i­ca­ture por­trayed by Stephen Colbert on the Comedy Central pro­gram “The Colbert Report” that made him famous before he became the host of The Late Show, Peter McIndoe almost nev­er slips out of char­ac­ter. In the video below, he refus­es to admit that the move­ment he found­ed is intend­ed to be satir­i­cal. (He also denies start­ing the movement.)

But in a recent episode of the New York Times’s pod­cast The Daily, Peter final­ly knocks down the fourth wall and speaks can­did­ly. Listen to the pod­cast for a fas­ci­nat­ing look at the guy who start­ed a fake movement.

But what we’re con­cerned with here is more serious. 

There’s been an alarm­ing resur­gence in recent years of con­spir­a­cy think­ing. It takes a toll on soci­ety. The glue that holds a soci­ety togeth­er is its shared nar­ra­tive. The resul­tant bonds of our shared nar­ra­tive have weak­ened to the point of break­ing in America today. We no longer agree on the most basic facts. Everything, it seems, is sub­ject to attack. 

It goes well beyond con­spir­a­cy theories. 

Vintage ad for Charles Atlas.
An American cul­tur­al arti­fact — from a less enlight­ened time? 

The huck­sters who ped­dle false nar­ra­tives employ an age-old tac­tic that adver­tis­ers have known about for gen­er­a­tions: the more we hear some­thing, no mat­ter how out­landish, the more plau­si­ble it seems.

Charles Atlas can make you a new man so you can kick the bul­ly’s ass and get the girl. 

“Sea Monkeys” will dance and enter­tain you. 

Order your X‑Ray specks and see right through clothing. 

Those of us of a cer­tain age grew up see­ing these claims in the back of our favorite com­ic books. Some of us fell for a few of them. (Blush.)

Before that, our grand­par­ents were sub­ject to “snake-oil sales­men” who ped­dled their mir­a­cle cures from the wag­ons they rode across the countryside. 

Today, we live in a vir­tu­al ocean of mis­in­for­ma­tion and con­spir­a­cy. Ironically, the Flat Earth Society also start­ed out as a tongue-in-cheek move­ment, much like the Birds Aren’t Real move­ment. Yet, today, there are far too many peo­ple who actu­al­ly believe that the Earth we inhab­it is not a globe but an enor­mous flat plain. One man died try­ing to prove it. 

What then can we take from all this? As usu­al, I have no pat answers. (I’m much bet­ter at point­ing out prob­lems than sug­gest­ing fix­es for them.) 

On the one hand, it seems to me that huck­sters and believ­ers in fake infor­ma­tion have been around since the prover­bial ser­pent in the gar­den. Ancient lit­er­a­ture is replete with sto­ries of gullible folks being tak­en to the clean­ers by pur­vey­ors of tall tales. It seems to be a pat­tern as old as human­i­ty. So per­haps we should­n’t be alarmed by the seem­ing­ly expo­nen­tial rise in fake facts and con­spir­a­to­r­i­al thinking. 

On the oth­er hand, this should not be hap­pen­ing in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. Never in the his­to­ry of our species has a pop­u­la­tion had such great access to accu­rate infor­ma­tion. We are bathed in oppor­tu­ni­ties to avail our­selves of the col­lec­tive wis­dom and sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge of the day. So one might think it would be hard to make a liv­ing sell­ing snake oil, as it were. 

On yet anoth­er hand… (I know, you only have at a max­i­mum two — just go with it.) Despite our unprece­dent­ed access to sol­id infor­ma­tion, we seem more con­fused about truth than ever. Because for every reli­able source of good data, there seem to be count­less sources of made-up infor­ma­tion. Trying to squelch them all is like an eter­nal game of whack-a-mole. 

Maybe — just maybe — we aren’t more gullible than our ances­tors. Maybe we’re just not evolved to process so much data. The mod­ern world is com­pli­cat­ed — and truth, more often than not, resides in the nether­world of shades of gray rather than black and white. 

We suf­fer from infor­ma­tion over­load, and some of us tend to recede into a com­fort­ing world where things like suf­fer­ing and pain and death are bet­ter explained by the exis­tence of unseen pow­ers that pull the strings. It’s eas­i­er to believe in vast con­spir­a­cies than face the fact that life is hard and stuff just happens. 

Right?

I’m still left with one nag­ging ques­tion. If those fly­ing things in the sky are real­ly elec­tro-mechan­i­cal con­trap­tions and not liv­ing ani­mals, then what in tar­na­tion is that crap they drop on my wind­shield and on the sidewalks? 

I’m gonna go Google it…

  • Pete Koutoulas

    Pete is an IT pro­fes­sion­al work­ing in Lexington. Formerly of Campton, he and his wife have lived in Winchester since 2015. Pete is a for­mer week­ly news­pa­per pub­lish­er and for­mer colum­nist for the Winchester Sun. These days, when not work­ing he can often be found on his back porch read­ing or writ­ing, in the back­yard tend­ing to his toma­to plants, or put­ter­ing around in his garage or work­shop. Reach Pete at pete@wincitynews.org.