Zombie Pigeons Are Invading Moscow

In humans, the offending disease produces mild sniffles and flu-like symptoms, not an undead stupor or craving for flesh

Darren Harmon

Moscow has declared a “pigeon apocalypse” and an invasion of “the pecking dead.” Residents noticed that the usually chipper street birds had assumed a lethargic, limp-head bob sort of swagger–not unlike a zombie. The Independent shares some anecdotes from worried humans:

One user reported a pigeon losing its balance and falling through an open window frame, while others described birds resting their beaks on the ground or walking round and round in circles.

Speaking to Europe Radio Liberty, a Moscow resident named Umid said: “When I walk to work I usually see pigeons running and jumping around. But recently they haven’t been reacting to anything at all”.

He added: “When a person walks past them, they used to fly away. But now they just sit there in a kind of funk and don’t even pay attention to you. They’re just not normal.”

Rather than craving brrraaaaiiiinnnsss, however, the pigeons likely suffer from Newcastle disease, a virus that proves fatal for birds that contract it. The Guardian reports:

According to the federal service for veterinary and phytosanitary surveillance, Moscow has become a “hotbed” of Newcastle disease, a bird disease that can be transmitted to humans.

“Before death, they start to resemble zombies: they lose their orientation and fly without a sense of direction, then fall, already lacking the strength to get up,” wrote Konstantin Ranks, a science columnist at the website Slon.ru.

Although some paranoid residents reportedly interpret the bird plague as a sign of the coming End of Times, the Guardian reports that pigeons often die en masse during the Moscow summer when the disease tends to break out, although “the problem could be growing more acute because the pigeon population was growing.”

Contrary to Business Insider’s warning that “if the pigeons are infected with Newcastle disease, it could be very dangerous to come in contact with one,” humans need not fear for their lives if they do contract Newcastle. In humans, the disease produces mild sniffles and flu-like symptoms—not an undead stupor or craving for flesh.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Curious World of Zombie Science 
The Scariest Zombies in Nature 

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.