Birds Aren’t Real protest flocks to Washington Square Park

Conspiracy group Birds Aren’t Real held its largest protest to date to prove an avian surveillance state on Saturday, Oct. 15.

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Kevin Wu

The Saturday protest under the Washington Square Arch was the “biggest rally ever” for satirical activist organization Birds Aren’t Real. (Kevin Wu for WSN)

Mayee Yeh, Deputy Managing Editor

Tisch first-year Thomas Powderly started following the Birds Aren’t Real movement in 2020, around the beginning of the pandemic. He had seen the group’s demonstrations — including one in which they stormed Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters to demand the company change its logo — and decided he wanted to participate.

“I’d seen other rallies in other cities before,” Powderly said. “I just moved here a month ago, so I was like, ‘I’m totally going to go.’”

Birds Aren’t Real hosted its “biggest rally ever” in Washington Square Park on Saturday, Oct. 15. Hundreds of participants crowded the north side of the park, holding signs that expressed a range of anti-avian sentiments, including “Birds Aren’t Real,” “Open Your Eyes,” “Pigeons Are Liars” and “Wake Up America.” Every time a flock of birds circled the Washington Square Arch, participants would boo.

A crowd of protesters at Washington Square Park look up into the sky. Some of them are holding signs with the text “Birds Aren’t Real,” others are making thumbs down gestures to birds flying past.
The protestors booed pigeons — or government drones — as they flew over the arch. (Kevin Wu for WSN)

“You know some people go their entire life where their eyes are never open?” Peter McIndoe, the creator of the group, said. “What’s opened your eyes?”

With its rhetoric similar to conspiracy theories like QAnon, outsiders to the group sometimes become confused. For years, McIndoe stood adamantly for the conspiracy, refusing to break character. Others joined him.

“I believe we alerted the people of New York City about three weeks ago that we will be here, but we’ve been everywhere — Chicago, Kansas, Los Angeles, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri,” said Claire Chronis, a self-proclaimed “public information officer” for Birds Aren’t Real. “Know we just want to let the people know the truth, that 12 billion birds were genocided by the United States government CIA. The CIA wiped them all out; the last bird was alive in 2001.”

In a 2021 interview with the New York Times, McIndoe admitted that the movement intends to be an absurd reaction to internet misinformation — a place for “cosplaying conspiracy theorists” and embracing political madness. For many non-participants, the most recent protest’s volume and intensity made them unsure about the true intent of Birds Aren’t Real. 

A person wearing a red shirt holds up a white poster with an image of the cartoon character Big Bird and the text “BIG BIRD IS WATCHING YOU.”
A protester holds a sign that reads “Big Bird is watching you.” (Kevin Wu for WSN)

“I thought it was critiquing conspiracy theories that are blown out of proportion online,” Ashanti Jowers, a Steinhardt first-year, said. “Like Pizzagate. Like saying birds aren’t real.” 

McIndoe arrived at the park in a decked-out Birds Aren’t Real van during Saturday’s protest, which caused crowds to rush toward Washington Square North. A bagpipe player performed songs including “Amazing Grace” and “Taps.” When McIndoe stood atop the white van screaming propaganda, law enforcement lingered nearby. Attendees attempted to hand park rangers signs. They weren’t interested.

“The police are trying to stop us,” McIndoe said.  “Who do you think called them here?”

The crowd responded without hesitation. “The birds.”

Counterprotesters, rumored to be hired actors, stood nearby with messages of their own: “Investigate Peter McIndoe,” and “We Demand Birds Aren’t Real’s Tax Returns.” 

“You look at the symbol of our country,” said Robert Bellah, the president of the counterprotest group Birds Are Real. “You better believe it’s an eagle, and that’s real.”

A man in a beige coat speaks to a WSN reporter and a crowd of protesters at Washington Square Park. Behind the man are two people holding up signs that read “WE DEMAND BIRDS AREN’T REAL’S TAX RETURNS,” and “INVESTIGATE PETER MCINDOE. BIRDS ARE REAL.”
A counterprotest group called Birds Are Real was also present at the Birds Aren’t Real protest. (Kevin Wu for WSN)

A speech given by Connor Gaydos, a friend of McIndoe, only further baffled bystanders. Gaydos claimed he had been raised by parents who warned him about the Birds Aren’t Real conspiracy, and that his father founded the movement after a CIA whistleblower leaked to him the information in the 1970s.

“This man who looked like Matthew McConaughey told me how the birds disappeared,” Steinhardt first-year Jaelyn Holmes said.

With nearly 400,000 followers on Instagram, Birds Aren’t Real has a wide social media reach. The account has posted interviews and articles in which McIndoe has broken character, discussing the satirical foundation of the movement. However, during the protest, he only continued to embrace the character he plays. 

“If you live in New York City, odds are, you’re brainwashed,” McIndoe told WSN. “Unfortunately, the education system in New York is collapsing. We’re trying to implement reverse ornithology in the Common Core school systems, and maybe in a couple generations it will be resolved. But it starts today. It starts here. It starts with us. Change happens on a local level. Talk to your neighbors, talk to your family. Let them know.”

Contact Mayee Yeh at [email protected]