Blackbird swarm video shows normal behavior
CLAIM: A video shows hundreds of birds filmed gathering on a residential block in Mexico because they were sensing a looming environmental crisis.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Experts say the behavior shown in the video is typical of blackbirds, which regularly congregate in large groups for safety.
THE FACTS: The video circulating widely online this week looks like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” – a residential road covered by a sea of black birds, whose flock spills out into nearby yards, walkways and residential rooftops.
TikTok and Twitter users spread the clip with horrified captions, suggesting it showed the end of the world was near.
“In Mexico, birds have started to congregate in the streets,” read a tweet shared more than 5,000 times. “The main theory behind this is that the birds sense an environmental crisis is coming.”
Other posts claimed the video was filmed in Kyoto, Japan, and signaled an impending earthquake or other unnamed disaster.
However, a geolocation search confirms the clip was filmed in a residential housing development in Querétaro, Mexico, and the birds’ behavior “is neither too surprising nor scary,” according to Richard Prum, an ornithologist and evolutionary biologist at Yale University.
Prum identified the birds as small blackbirds, probably Brewer’s blackbirds, which breed in the central and Western United States and spend winters in the southern U.S. and Mexico. He said it’s normal for the birds to “aggregate in huge flocks” during the non-breeding season, behavior that’s often seen in the evening as they try to evade predators.
“Any individual is protected from risk of predation by staying with its flock mates,” Prum told The Associated Press in an email. “At this spot, it looks like it is either foggy, or approaching darkness. I would bet that these birds have a large evening roost nearby – perhaps a city park or grove of trees – where they spend the night. This may be a portion of the flock gathering together before they reach or fly to the roost.”
Other experts agreed that the video showed blackbirds exhibiting normal behavior.
“Nothing to worry about,” wrote Chris Williams, associate provost and academic director for the office of sustainability at the University of Delaware, in an email to the AP. “They very typically flock in the thousands and millions and will move in mass between roosting grounds and feeding grounds.”
The man who originally posted the video to TikTok, Josue Reséndiz, confirmed in a message to the AP that he filmed it on Jan. 23 in the residential development in Querétaro.
While anecdotal evidence suggests that animals have acted strangely before earthquakes, scientific research on this phenomenon is ongoing, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Prum noted that no major natural disaster has occurred in Central Mexico in the month since the video was posted.
“Of course, the theory could be that they are suffering from the same existential dread that we all feel from global climate change and war in Europe,” he said. “But I doubt it!”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.