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Are bats birds? And Other Bird Myths: Hairy birds or coconuts?

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

Bird myths, fables, fiction, and wildly inaccurate stories have been shared about birds for generations. In this first installment, I am going to take a flocking flamethrower to some bird falsehoods.

A Barn Swallow perches on a road sign.
A Barn Swallow sits on a sign... coconut-less.

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Before I reveal each truth, I will offer a poll to test your skills! To keep the game from becoming too obvious, I will use some truths and some falsehoods. Hopefully, this keeps everyone on their toes and allows them to answer truthfully based on their knowledge. These are statements or questions that I have received over the past decade working as an ornithologist. Some might seem outrageous to informed birders, but some information might be new to other folks! Regardless of the knowledge camp you are in, use this as an opportunity to grow and learn!


Have your own myth you are curious about? Add it in the comment section at the bottom!


Bats are birds.

  • TRUE

  • FALSE


MYTH: Bats are birds.

Bats are NOT birds. Yes, they can fly like birds, but bats have teeth, fur, and mammary glands. Birds do not have teeth, have feathers and do not feed their young using mammary glands. (Though, some members of Columbiformes [doves and pigeons] do feed a ‘milk’ to their young.) Bats are the only true-flying mammals, but flight alone does not connect these two organisms that are NOT closely related. There are organisms called flying squirrels, but these specialized rodents use a flap of skin to glide and not fly.

A big brown bat with its mouth open.
See those chompers?! Birds do NOT have those. (The teeth.)

Bats are not birds. Myth busted.


Birds cannot smell.

  • TRUE

  • FALSE

MYTH: Birds cannot smell.

All (or most) birds can smell. This old belief was less of a myth but a lack of scientific capability to detect and understand this sometimes subtle bird ability. Some birds have a greater sense of smell than others, but the most recent research suggests that all birds can smell their mates, chicks, and more! Of course, this myth clashed with another item from this very list, so keep reading!


Birds can smell. Myth busted.


 

Learn about the sense of smell of birds with "The Secret Perfume of Birds!"

Zach holding The Secret Perfume of Birds."
 

If a bird lands in your hair, it will lay its eggs and make you go crazy.

  • TRUE

  • FALSE


MYTH: If a bird lands in your hair, it will lay its eggs and make you go crazy.

I kid you not; I was told this by a lovely couple from Canada while birding in Mexico. This old fable likely originated from a lack of ability to understand and diagnose mental health issues. But it is NOT true. If a bird lands in your hair, it will NOT lay its eggs and make you go crazy. Birds cannot just lay a bunch of eggs on command. The eggs go through a process that creates all the layers of the egg, including the hard outer shell. This is not accomplished in seconds. A bird cannot land in your hair and then lay an egg, much less multiple eggs. Even if it did, there is nothing that would make you go crazy from it. Otherwise, chicken, duck, and goose eggs would have done that damage centuries ago.


Birds will NOT land in your hair, AND their eggs will NOT make you go crazy. Myth busted.


Touching a baby bird will cause its parents to abandon it.

  • TRUE

  • FALSE

 

Learn all the bird facts you can handle with the "Handbook of Bird Biology."

Zach from Flocking Around holding the "Handbook of Bird Biology."
 

MYTH: Touching a baby bird will cause its parents to abandon it.

How did this myth survive next to the idea that birds could not smell? This tale stems from other organisms that might abandon their young if predators (like humans) attack or leave their scent near the young animals. Of course, at the height of this myth’s popularity, it was also believed that birds could not smell. The math clearly did not add up.

Two nestling Say's Phoebes rest their heads on a nest.
These baby birds won't be abandoned if rescued and placed back into their nest by a human.

The recommendation when you find a baby bird out of its nest is clear. Put the baby bird back in the nest. There are many different situations of baby birds being at risk, and I addressed them all in this article!


DO put baby birds back in their nests. Myth busted.


It is illegal to possess feathers.

  • TRUE

  • FALSE


FACT: It is illegal to possess feathers.

This is NOT a myth. It is ILLEGAL to possess the feathers of native bird species in North America. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is what established the legality of owning feathers. This law protects migratory birds from poaching and harvesting, which would contribute to the decimation and extinction of hundreds of bird species. The law was created to protect herons and egrets from the over-harvesting of their plumes during the 19th and 20th centuries. Learn more about the protections of feathers and the law behind these protections from this more in-depth piece.


Do not possess bird feathers. Truth enforced.


Hummingbirds migrate across oceans by riding the backs of geese.

  • TRUE

  • FALSE


MYTH: Hummingbirds migrate across oceans by riding the backs of geese.

Yes, this was once a widely believed idea. Initially, some naturalists did not believe that hummingbirds could migrate hundreds of miles. They surmised that these little birds instead rode the backs of larger birds to reach their destinations. Of course, most waterfowl do not migrate across the Gulf of Mexico, especially the larger geese. These tiny birds have near-mechanical bodies that allow the birds to cross great distances.


Hummingbirds migrate without physical assistance. Though, a hummingbird feeder can definitely offer some refueling assistance. Myth busted.


A Great Horned Owl will eat my dog or cat.

  • TRUE

  • FALSE


MYTH: A Great Horned Owl will eat my dog or cat.

No, a Great Horned Owl is NOT likely to eat your cat or dog. Why? The average house cat weighs THREE TIMES that of an adult female Great Horned Owl. Is it possible? Sure. Is it probable? Nope. This DOES NOT mean letting your cats roam outside. But owls should not suffer due to an unrealistic concern about a pet. Now, if you leave kittens or puppies outside, this is a much different story. Do not let that happen.


A Great Horned Owl (likely) will NOT eat your dog or cat. Myth busted.


A Bald Eagle will carry away my outdoor cat or unleashed dog.

  • TRUE

  • FALSE


FACT: A Bald Eagle can carry away my outdoor cat or unleashed dog.

Remember just a moment ago when I said your dogs and cats are likely safe around owls? That is no longer true. Bald Eagles (and Golden Eagles) can kill and/or carry away small pets. There are multiple cases of this happening. Want to keep your pets safe? Keep dogs and cats in protected areas. Wandering cats create problems for birds, cats, and much more. Use a catio or a leash. Keep an eye on small dogs, or use a protective vest or leash to keep them from being carried away.


A Bald Eagle CAN hurt your small dog or cat. Be prepared. Truth enforced.


MYTH: A swallow can carry a coconut.

Monty Python, anyone? A swallow CANNOT carry a coconut. See? You can learn things from Flocking Around that you will never learn from the BBC.

Monty Python is funny. Truth enforced.


Hummingbirds nest and roost in hummingbird houses.

  • TRUE

  • FALSE


MYTH: Hummingbirds nest and roost in hummingbird houses.

Companies that try to sell you hummingbird houses are just plain awful. They are grifters. Deceitful. Etc, etc. Hummingbirds DO NOT use hummingbird houses for nesting or roosting. Hummingbirds do not utilize cavities, so do not fall for this myth. It will cost you, and no hummingbirds will come to visit.


Stay out of the hummingbird real estate market. Myth busted.

A Black-chinned Hummingbird hovering with its tongue out.
Hummingbirds would not be caught dead using a hummingbird house. Save your money.

You can take ducks.

  • TRUE

  • FALSE


FACT(ish): You can take ducks.

This was a new one for me. I heard this statement on a podcast that is recorded in Florida. And while Florida has some WEIRD laws, I had to learn more before trusting anything said around the statement, "You can take ducks." After some additional research, I learned this statement was about taking ducks from public parks. However, the most crucial detail was the status of the ducks. The waterfowl being referred to were non-native ducks and geese that had been abandoned by their former owners. Whether it's an Egyptian Goose, an American Pekin duck, a Swedish blue duck, Chinese goose, or Embden goose, these birds are non-natives and unlikely to be protected by federal, state, and even local laws.


**Please note I am not encouraging nor am I endorsing the taking of waterfowl of any kind. Each state, county, or municipality may have laws regarding non-native, non-migratory waterfowl. Check into these laws before any duck-lifting occurs.


You can take ducks. Truth… unresolved?

 

Learn which ducks to NOT take with "Waterfowl..."

Clearly, I took the wrong duck with that face.

Zach holding a waterfowl bird guide
 

There are more myths to be busted.

  • TRUE

  • FALSE


FACT: There are more myths to be busted.

This only scratches the surface of myths that we can flocking bust! There are many more myths I will bust up in part two, but if you have a myth or question you want to be addressed, add it in the comment section below!


 

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