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Bird Myths: Penguins Fall Over When Airplanes Fly Over Their Heads

Urban legends about birds abound, but one of the most bizarre stories involves penguin and planes.

According to some pilots who were stationed in the Falkland Islands during the Falklands War, they devised a game in which they would slowly fly over a group of penguins. The penguins—fascinated by the large, loud plane—would watch it fly over, follow the plane with their heads, and topple over onto their backs.

Wait, what?


That’s right. Many people actually claim this happened. Even the Audubon Society Magazine apparently talked to someone about the phenomenon. Here’s the widely spread excerpt from Audubon Magazine:

A Mexican newspaper reports that bored Royal Air Force pilots stationed on the Falkland Islands have devised what they consider a marvelous new game. Noting that the local penguins are fascinated by airplanes, the pilots search out a beach where the birds are gathered and fly slowly along it at the water’s edge. Perhaps ten thousand penguins turn their heads in unison watching the planes go by, and when the pilots turn around and fly back, the birds turn their heads in the opposite direction, like spectators at a slow-motion tennis match. Then, the paper reports, “The pilots fly out to sea and directly to the penguin colony and overfly it. Heads go up, up, up, and ten thousand penguins fall over gently onto their backs.

So, it this just a silly myth or is it based in reality? As of right now, all signs point to myth.

I know it seems funny to imagine a colony of penguins falling over onto their backs as a plane flies over their heads, but studies and experiments have yielded nothing. And yes, people have actually conducted experiments to find out.

According to the BBC, researchers went to Antarctica to investigate the longstanding legend. They found that the penguins wobbled or walked away from the noise, but didn’t topple over. Penguins are far from graceful, but they wouldn’t get to the point where they’re trapped on their back and someone actually has to come around to flip them (another aspect of the myth).

Still, some people claim that they know someone who’s seen the penguins fall over and that it’s very possible. Perhaps in the perfect environment, it’s entirely possible, but until there’s empirical evidence, we’ll just have to watch this outrageously funny video from RT News.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

1 Comment

  1. cool

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