Birds giving the bird

By Phil Plait | December 8, 2009 12:00 pm

Now this is the kind of pareidolia I can understand.


That’s a flock of starlings, known for their enormous numbers and giant swarming formations. When you take a quick snapshot, you’re likely to get funny shapes, but, in general, unlikely to get such an opinion from the birds themselves.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Pareidolia, Pretty pictures

Comments (34)

  1. Sharkweek

    That looks more like an index finger than a bird-giving finger to me. I think the birds are trying to tell us that they are number 1.

  2. eliterrell

    Or they are pointing at something. I bet it’s pretty interesting.

  3. Colin

    I bet they’re pointing at Nibiru. The animals always know when disaster is about to strike…

  4. CS

    These huge flocks are so great to watch that they have caused several car accidents.

    Less great is when the make a stopover on the trees in my garden becoming incredibly loud, but thankfully they don’t stay too long.

  5. ttrygve

    Yeah, clearly an index finger, it’s a shame the photographer didn’t catch what they were pointing at, it was probably something really important like an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the clouds … giving us the finger for mocking her previous appearances.

  6. Gus Snarp

    I read somewhere that the British are very concerned about their plummeting starling populations. Meanwhile, in the U.S. this British import is pushing out native robins and bluebirds. Maybe we could just but up huge nets, catch them all, and send them back to the UK?

  7. Crux Australis

    They’re pointing to god. He’s the one giving us The Finger.

  8. saveh2o

    Do the rest of you old folk remember the giant flocks of birds we can only try to describe to our children and grandchildren. I remember laying in my front yard,when it was safe for a child to be alone in the yard, and watching flocks fly over for 5-10 minutes at a time, all one flock. That was amazing and not seen on the east coast for many years. Maybe they’re giving us the finger for what we have done to their kind.

  9. The angle you perceive it at determines whether you see an index finger or the middle finger. If you imagine you’re seeing the back of the hand, it’s the index finger. If you imagine seeing primarily the fingers/knuckles then it looks like the birds are giving the… well… bird. haha.

  10. Theron

    Ha! I didn’t get the “giving a bird” at first, as I saw not a hand with a protruding middle finger, but a turkey – though one without much of head, but then this time of year many turkeys are missing their heads.

  11. Michael D.

    It is interesting to recount the history of the introduction of the European starling into the U.S.A.

  12. Uh, oh. Birds are mobilizing and starting to express their anger towards us. Hopefully, we won’t be getting a remake of The Birds.

  13. JoeSmithCA

    I think they’re telling someone to look up, so they can do a poop attack en masse. :)

  14. Daniel J. Andrews

    That’s a flock of starlings, known for their enormous numbers and giant swearing swarming formations.


  15. Actually, if you turn the picture sideways, they look like they’re in the shape of a real bird, complete with different-colored feathers on the head.

  16. @Romeo Vitelli,

    Where I live, we have huge swarms of crows. And by huge, I mean hundreds of crows. I’ll be walking to my car and will see them flying overhead. Then I look to my left and see them occupying every available tree branch. Then I look to my right and see more crow-full tree branches. Then I walk a little faster to my car.

  17. Darren Garrison

    That’s a “thumbs-up”!

  18. Bruce the Canuck

    >huge swarms of crows…

    The term is “murder of crows” (!)

    I’ve seen murders of crows gang up on eagles, it doesn’t look like much fun. You can often see a bald eagle here, flapping at an undignified pace, with a cloud of cawing crows behind it, some nipping at its wingtips.

  19. @TechyDad:

    I read that as huge swarms of COWS! :)

    How udderly ridiculous!

  20. I'd rather be fishin'

    Just who is the intended target of the ‘flying fickle finger of fate’? Anti-vaxxers, moon-land denyers or the neighbourhood cats?

  21. Brian Too

    Hey! Heeeeyyyyyy!!

    How do you get back at some birds that just flipped you off and don’t even know it? That’s harsh man!

  22. j fritz

    Looks like a tornado

  23. MadScientist

    What’s wrong with you people? It’s obviously a Penguin! That’s the beak, not a finger. Some people just don’t understand bird art.

  24. 18. Brian:
    I think Capt. Sullenberger might be able to help you with that!

  25. The mathematics of murmurating starlings is worth a read.

    I recently helped a kid out with a report he was writing. Basically he had to choose from a small group of authors which was the most influential today. They were some of the most famous English authors: Dante, Marlowe, Shakespeare etc. My friend choose Shakespeare and the extent of my help was just to point out that because the starlings were introduced by fans of the Bard, they’ve changed the character of wildlife in our country and none of the other writers’ advocates can claim such an effect.

    I also pointed to the moons of Uranus as another example- Shakespeare’s influence extends beyond earth and into the heavens.

  26. Good thing it didn’t look like Jesus or that particular crowd would be freakin’ out.

  27. Quiet Desperation

    Pareidolia? We sure this isn’t photoshopia?

  28. @Bruce the Canuck,

    “The term is “murder of crows” (!)”

    When I’m walking by one of those huge swarms of crows, I definitely get the idea that they could be capable of murder if they wanted to. I’m sure those hundreds of crows could overpower me and have a TechyDad-dinner if they so desired…. Or at least make things messy for me by using a TechyDad-bullseye for target practice.

  29. CW

    Hahaha, thank you! I have a new desktop background now.

  30. ND

    speaking of birds, here’s snippet from the bookshop sketch:

    C: I saw it over there: “Olsen’s Standard Book of British Birds”.
    P: (pause; trying to stay calm) “Olsen’s Standard Book of British Birds”?
    C: Yes…
    P: O-L-S-E-N?
    C: Yes….
    P: B-I-R-D-S??
    C: Yes…..
    P: (beat) Yes, well, we do have that, as a matter of fact….
    C: The expurgated version….
    P: (pause; politely) I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that…?
    C: The expurgated version.
    P: (exploding) The EXPURGATED version of “Olsen’s Standard Book of British
    C: (desperately) The one without the gannet!
    P: The one without the gannet-!!! They’ve ALL got the gannet!! It’s a
    Standard British Bird, the gannet, it’s in all the books!!!
    C: (insistent) Well, I don’t like them…they wet their nests.
    P: (furious) All right! I’ll remove it!! (rrrip!) Any other birds you don’t
    C: I don’t like the robin…
    P: (screaming) The robin! Right! The robin! (rrrip!) There you are, any
    others you don’t like, any others?
    C: The nuthatch?
    P: Right! (flipping through the book) The nuthatch, the nuthatch, the
    nuthatch, ‘ere we are! (rrriiip!) There you are! NO gannets, NO robins,
    NO nuthatches, THERE’s your book!
    C: (indignant) I can’t buy that! It’s torn!
    P: (incoherent noise)
    C: Ah, I wonder if you have–
    P: God, ask me anything!! We got lots of books here, you know, it’s a

  31. I’ve seem similar “art” on the stalls of men’s restrooms. I don’t think they were supposed to be fingers.

    (I think that’s all I’ll say on the matter. Let’s try to keep this “PG”, or at least “PG-13”.)

  32. ZERO

    It’s not polite to show your middle finger!

    Cover that with that fuzzy, ah blurred thing that you see on TV!


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