Back to Africa Check

No, Facebook post does not show pigeon drug bust in New York City in the US – but these birds were up to no good

IN SHORT: Photos are circulating on Facebook in South Africa with the claim they show pigeons caught carrying drugs in New York City in the United States. But the photos actually show separate incidents in Costa Rica and Kuwait.

A post with four images of birds attached is circulating on Facebook in South Africa in January 2023 and makes a bold claim. It claims to show pigeons caught in New York City in the US carrying "illicit substances" or drugs.  

In the images, small bags filled with what look like tablets are attached to a bird’s back or chest.

Responses to the post range from humour to doubt, with one user asking: "Ok, how come the papers on the background are not written in English but a different language, if it's in New York?"

Another user commented that in the past birds were used to carry letters, sometimes called pigeon post, so "they just use the same knowledge from the ancient days" to now deliver drugs. 

The post has been shared over 500 times and some of the images have even made global headlines, here and here

But do these photos show a pigeon drug bust in New York City? 

Here’s what the results of a reverse image search show. 

Pigeons_PFalse

Images from different places, different events 

The first step we took in verifying the claim was to do a reverse image search of each of the four images, using the Fake news debunker by InVID & WeVerify tool.

The tool allows you to run a reverse image search across several search engines at the same time. 

The search results led us to where else the images had appeared online and revealed that variations of the claim have been debunked by news agency Reuters and USA Today

Both publications spoke to spokespeople from the New York police who refuted the claim that the images showed a drug bust in the city. 

The reverse image search results also show media reports from as early as 2015 linking two of the four images to an incident in Costa Rica, a country in Central America, where a pigeon was caught with a bag of drugs in a prison. 

The two remaining images appear in a 2017 BBC article which explains that the photos were taken in Kuwait, a country on the Arabian Peninsula, where customs officials caught a pigeon carrying drugs.

These photos don’t show pigeons caught with drugs in New York City in the US. But the gist of the story is true – these birds were roped into doing not one but several drug dealers’ or smugglers’ dirty work.

Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on africacheck.org.

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.