Back to Africa Check

Bird drone spying on African countries? No, video shows ‘flying pterodactyl’ toy

IN SHORT: Several social media posts claim that there are sophisticated drones “developed by the French” to spy on some African countries. That's not true, the device you see flying in the video is just a toy.

“This is not a bird, if you see it anywhere around you, PLEASE be kind enough to shoot it down by ‘ALL’ means possible and available to you...” That’s the start of a common caption for a video circulating on social media in January 2024. 

It claims that the not-bird is a sophisticated drone “developed chiefly by the French” to spy on West African countries after the 2023 coup in Niger – and do other harmful things.

The video begins with a man holding a whirring and flapping mechanical device that looks a bit like a bird. He walks onto a field and launches the device into the sky, where it flies around for the rest of the clip.

The caption then claims that the bird drone detects mineral deposits in African countries. Some versions say it’s also used by Boko Haram and other violent groups active in northeastern Nigeria.

These posts claim that the drone is “sent to fly over, scan and see into the villages where population is substantial, so that Boko Haram, Bandits or kidnappers will strike and kill and maim”.

But the device in the video does none of these things. It’s just a toy.

BirdDrone_False

Birds aren’t real?

Africa Check took screenshots of frames from the first few seconds of the video that show the toy up close. We ran these through a reverse image search.

This led us to several adverts for “the flying pterodactyl”, a remote-controlled toy made by PaulG Toys in the US.

Pterodactyls were a group of flying reptiles that became extinct about 66 million years ago. They were not birds.

Popular artists’ impressions of what pterodactyls might have looked like show them with a bony crest on the back of their heads and no feathers. The toy in the video has the same features.

PaulG Toys’ flying pterodactyl comes in many colour combinations. The toy in the video looks like its red version, with a yellow beak, red crest, red and black plastic wings and webbed feet.

YouTube videos of the toy show it flapping around in the same way as the alleged spy drone.

If someone were to design a fake bird drone, they'd probably make it look like a living bird, not an extinct pterodactyl.

The video’s captions echo “birds aren’t real”, a movement that satirises conspiracy theories with the consciously absurd claim that all birds are actually US government spy drones.

Birds are real, of course. And the toy in the video isn't spying on African countries.

Republish our content for free

Please complete this form to receive the HTML sharing code.

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.