Skip to content

'It's a gull': Expert weighs in on viral motionless B.C. bird

A bird expert at the University of Washington has chimed in on the viral Surrey video.

A video capturing a B.C. bird floating mid-air and motionless sent many people into a spiral trying to figure out what could be going on — including bird expert Kaeli Swift.

The bird was caught on camera on Feb. 18, between 1 and 4 p.m. near L.A. Matheson Secondary School in Surrey, as it hung above power lines.

“That’s a dead bird and it is just floating in the air, no strings, no nothing,” a man says in the video.

After watching the viral videos, Swift, an avian ecologist at the University of Washington, believes the bird was not fake or a prank. Rather, it was dead, she says.

“That's just a pretty, pretty wild optical illusion,” she tells Glacier Media. “[I] felt bad for this bird that it got tangled up in some way that has resulted in this, in its demise."

During her career, Swift has focused on corvidae — the family of birds that contain crows, jays and magpies.

Many other experts weighed in on the debate back when the video surfaced.

Paul Kingsbury, a geography professor at Simon Fraser University, researches and examines paranormal activity. His best guess was the bird was hanging by a string and it was possibly a prank. 

A Vancouver-based rabbi confirms with Glacier Media there is no eruv in Surrey. A spokesperson with BC Hydro says they have looked into the bird and stated it would not be possible for power lines to cause something like this.

Meanwhile, Environment and Climate Change Canada assessed the video and "determined it's a crow" and "therefore we would not have purview on this issue."

For Swift, it's 'definitely real' and it's not a crow. 

“It's a gull, and it's a juvenile gull based on its plumage,” she says. “The way I can tell that it's not a crow is because it has webbed feet for one; it has pink webbed feet.”

Another indicator that it's a gull, she adds, is that the wingtips are much more pointed than a crow. There's also the shape of the head and the bill. Juvenile gulls tend to be darker in colour when they’re younger, Swift explains.

“Sometimes you need a specialist to come and help out,” she says. “It's a very specialized skill."

These types of birds are not easy to find in a store or purchase, Swift says. People can buy fake birds for prop purposes, but juvenile gulls are not often used. 

“I have a really hard time that someone would like, go to the lengths to acquire this bird. I mean, I guess they could have shot it,” says Swift. “There's just a lot of steps that would be involved to execute this prank and I just kind of have a hard time believing that particularly in this setting."

As for her theory that it's deceased, Swift says: “It doesn't move. It doesn't flinch or struggle, it's completely limp. The feet are hanging limply down. It's definitely dead.”

Swift has been studying birds for more than a decade and has seen similar videos floating around recently. 

"I haven't seen anything that's this kind of level of an optical illusion, where it's not obvious like why it's entangled, but birds entangling with power lines is a really common problem, particularly in agrarian areas,” she says. 

Swift's theory is that the bird likely had a line hanging off it that snagged and caused it to get stuck. Or, it got stuck in some type of line and got tangled. 

"A lot of bad luck for that bird to have that happen,” she says. "But I mean, stranger things have happened.”


@corvidresearch TBH, I wish it was magic instead @bluefrenchhorn26 #floatingbird #Floatingcrow #FactCheck #Scientist #Crow #Mysterious #greenscreen #greenscreenvideo ♬ original sound - Kaeli Swift