|Unlike the bird in the viral video, this actually is a Golden Eagle.|
From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: I have spent my whole life trying to teach people about nature. When I see someone intentionally misleading the public with dangerously false ideas, and others repeating the misinformation without even attempting to fact-check it, I can’t help but be angry.
Late at night on December 18, a video showed up on YouTube that purported to show a Golden Eagle swooping in to snatch a small child in a park in Montreal. After a few labored wingbeats, gaining several feet off the ground, the eagle drops the child and flies away, while the videographer (screen name “MrNuclearCat”) rushes over for a closeup of the scene.
After a few shares on Facebook, the video went viral, exploding all over the Internet. By the morning of the 19th, the clip was being played on television news shows, and millions of people had seen it.
But it’s faked.
To determine that, you don’t have to know anything about computer graphics, or about the weight-lifting capacity of eagles. All you have to do is look at the bird in the video. A Golden Eagle in Montreal would be a notable rarity, but this bird is not a Golden Eagle at all. The pattern of white in the wings immediately rules that out. The exact identity of the bird is still being studied, but whatever it was—assuming it was a real bird at all, and not entirely computer-generated—it wasn’t anything native to North America.
The sport of falconry—keeping hawks, falcons, or eagles in captivity, and training them to fly after prey—is still practiced. Some falconers have exotic raptors that don’t occur in North America, or hybrids that don’t exist in the wild at all. The bird in the video looks most similar to certain eagles in Asia or Australia. The most likely explanation is that this was a falconer’s bird, and that it was trained to perform this stunt for the video.
So: was it a real baby in the video? If so, using the child for this stupid stunt was a crime of child endangerment, and the authorities should be looking for “MrNuclearCat.”
Was a falconer’s bird trained to swoop in and pick up a doll that looks like a child? If so, that is insanely stupid; it would never be safe to take that bird out in public again.
Were large parts of the video simply done with computer graphics? If so, why? Why would anyone do this at all? People in modern society are too far removed from nature as it is, and all too ready to believe scary stories about wild animals. Why go to all this effort to create fear about harmless and beautiful birds?
Perhaps the most disheartening thing is the way the story spread, the way people were so willing to believe it. Let me emphasize that I don't fault the individuals who saw it online and shared it; at first viewing, for most people, it probably looked both scary and realistic. But I can't understand why several morning “news” shows on American television ran the video as if it were legitimate. What ever happened to principles of journalism? What ever happened to fact-checking?
By now, a little over 12 hours after the video first appeared, it is being questioned in some online media. I just spoke with Curtis Rush from the Toronto Star, who has already questioned the video online and is working on a second story, and this may help to get the facts out. It would be wonderful if “MrNuclearCat” would post a follow-up, to explain how he made the video and to clarify that eagles don’t pose a threat to children.
But people have limited attention spans, and any retraction or correction will never have the reach of the original video. Vast numbers of people, only peripherally aware of nature in the first place, will come away with the lingering impression that eagles sometimes carry away babies, that nature is dangerous. And that will represent one more sad break with reality, one more piece of damage done, one more falsehood to carry us all farther away from a real understanding of the natural world.
UPDATE: It has just been confirmed that the video was produced for a class assignment by three students at Centre NAD, a school in Montreal. Both the "eagle" and the baby were completely computer-generated. More information at this link:
So no actual children were harmed or threatened in the making of this video. But my final complaint about the video still stands; many people will never see the retraction, and they will be forever rendered a little more suspicious and fearful of the natural world, thus darkening their lives and the lives of their children.