A Bird Story --  "Change is in the Air"

Selected comments:



(E-mail received 21 Apr 2005; Subject: bird with quarters)

Birds will use all kinds of things for nest building. I study birds and I have a lot of nests on my property. When I clean out my bird boxes every year I find all kinds of objects in their nest. Once I found a plastic toy soldier weaved into the nest, another time I found a metal bottle cap mixed in with the small sticks. Birds are naturally attracted to shiney objects, aren't we all. Also the bird may have been cleaning out the machine to make room for the new nest. Birds are natural house cleaners, and that is why alot a birds will not nest in a previously built, or used nest. Birds will not build in a cluttered area, it must be cleaned first, after all do we want someones left over clutter when we move into our new home. Birds will also use all kinds of objects to to make their nests stronger, hold it together better, so the quarters could be used for supporting the nest. I hope that I have given you a better understanding of "the bird", also an appreciation of just how smart our little feathered friends are. Birds, you gotta love em.   Lynn Hull


(E-mail receive 14 May 2003 from Lise Norgen)
The real story can be found at:
Urban Legends Reference Pages:

Sincerely, Lise


(E-mail received 27 Jan 2003; Subject: Change is in the Air)

Stumbled upon your website. The “Bill” referred to is a cousin of mine, Bill Bothwell of the Louisville, KY area. His wife e-mailed these pictures to my mother at one point. [The pictures didn't come through in the e-mail].
Timothy J. Fath


 Someone emailed me a link to your site where the bird is trying to make a nest in a car wash payment machine. I explained what is happening, but figured I might as well send the info to you as well...

Question: Do these photos look digitally altered to you?
 Answer:  No, they are not altered. This machine is a perfect bird house.  Humans make bird houses with small openings like this and are not amazed  when birds move into them, even though how would they know we built it  as a bird house for them. This machine is built almost exactly the  same as a bird house, yet people are amazed when a bird wants to move  into it. The coins take up too much space on the inside, and have to  be removed, just as an old prior nest in a bird house has to be removed.
 Birds are usually attracted to shiny objects like coins, but it would  not have seen shiny coins through the machine, nor would they be shiny  inside the dark unlit machine, so it was in the machine before it knew  about the coins, scouting for a good safe dry place to make a nest.  The coins in the dark are not shiny, and nothing more than something in
 the way of a good nesting place, so it took them out and dropped them on  the roof and under a tree, away from the new nesting place, as it may  old nest material as you don't want to draw attention to where your nest  is.
 As when a bird tries to build a nest on your balcony, and you keep  taking the nest material away everyday, it still comes back and tries  again. Thus here too, when more coins are placed into the machine, it  just tries to remove them again. Birds are very stubborn and do not  give up so easy.
 It doesn't see too many people around this area, as they are always in a  car moving through to the car wash. The only guy around this machine is  the one who empties it once a week or so. Just as birds have no  problems with cars and building nests under highway underpasses and  bridges, this seemed like a safe nesting place with not too much OTHER  kinds of traffic.
 There are birds around here constantly checking out our gutters and  nooks and crannies outside the office window, and trying to come inside  the window when the big vertical blinds are open as slits.
 This instance of the bird trying to make a nest inside this machine is  not unusual at all. If it were an abandoned gas station, there would  already have been a nest with babies inside this machine.

Paul Patch


":I got a real kick out of the bird Story: "Change is in the Air"

After much research, I have narrowed down the bird's identification to a few possibilities listed below.

My guesses-
American quarterbeak?
Spotted Silver-Pilfer?
Green-Backed Gobbler?
Long-billed Change-Thrasher?
Silver Tokenpecker?
Car-washed Coinfisher?
or perhaps the Common Ruffled-Filcher. "

TR, from Seattle


"I publish the Self Service CarWash News --- a trade journal that specializes in coin-op carwashes. One of my relatively new subscribers encouraged me to check out the "Change Is In The Air" story on your website. As he (and apparently a number of others), I got a real kick out of it ... but for different reasons:

 - First, the SSCWN, was the very first to print those pictures and the real story more than 8 years ago.

 - I was greatly amused by the "Selected Comments" that said the pics were digitally altered. No way!!! Believe me --- I know Photoshop and I know photography. And I know that the photo prints I rec'd many years ago and printed (from the same lot seen on your website) were shot on regular good ol' Kodak film by a regular good ol' boy carwash operator in Virginia ... a person who did not even have a computer back in the early 90's!

 -  One glaring error in the story was the "$4000 on the roof" --- that did not happen ... or certainly was not reported by the carwash operator in question. But it was not unusual for that befuddled guy to find as much as $80 in quarters on the ground by the changer every morning ... until he caught the birds in the act ... and stuffed the change cup w/ a towel at night/off hours.

 -  BTW --- since then, I have had several operators around the country report very similar run-ins w/ starlings at their bill changers too!"

Jarret J. Jakubowski
Publisher/Editor SSCWN


"I've been in computer graphics and graphic arts for more than 25 years. The comment from Chris Purdom claiming the pictures are retouched is probably nonsense. I've seen thousands of digitally modified photographs, and I say it's highly doubtful that these were modified. Even without zooming in, the shadows appear authentic, the coins in the bird's mouth credibly placed. Even the masters leave artifacts while struggling to get the tone and angle of a shadow to match the ambient, and adjusting the perspective, hue, and
highlight/shadow of the inserted object; these appear to have no defects that my eye can see. In any case, what is so improbable about this phenomenon? Cute, yes. Uncommon, apparently. But it's not improbable; it would have been more trouble to manufacture a hoax out of thin air than to accept that this kind of thing can happen".

Peter Zelchenko


" Bird Story, where the birds were stealing quarters from the car wash... Mike and I have it all figured out. The car wash owner was paying the birds to poop on the cars so they would have to be washed more frequently, but the scam got out of control when the birds got greedy, so the owner played innocent and got the vendor to put the kabash on the caper".

Martha Bergin
Tempe, AZ


" RE: bird story....AP service ran same (!) picture 5~10 years ago, giving location in Stafford Co., Va. Monetary amount given as $20. Have clipping on file".

Marcia Hammerl
Allentown, PA


"To Whom It Concerns:
I received the link to your website and the Bird Story via email. I looked at the photos after reading your comments below. The bird has indeed been digitally placed on the photos. The creator probably had pictures of a bird entering and leaving a nest and combined them with the car wash photos.  However, the person is not an expert at this. There are several tell tale signs. The first is that anything added to a jpeg photo will have jagged edges around the object. In Starling1 picture, if you look at the bird's perch zoomed in at 3:1 or higher, you will see straight lines of pixels. Straight lines of pixels usually occur only around straight objects. The bird is covering the top of the coin box so that it is not the straight lines. There is also a "halo" around the bird. If the bird was in the photo when the photo was taken, the halo would not exist. This is unique to insertion of graphics. This halo is in all of the photos. In starling3, the bird's wing is doing something striking, bending backwards and the visible leg is in a rather curious position. Furthermore, the shadows do not match the bird. If you look at the red sign above the bird's head, you will see an area that is not a blend of pixels as the rest of the sign. In Starling4, the bird's shadow does not match the angel of the rest of the shadows and there are repeated areas of pixels that have been "cleaned" and does not match the rest of the object. Finally, in Starling5, there is a white spot on the wing. This white spot does not appear in the other photos. When you zoom in on the spot, it is in the shape of a square. The square doesn't even follow the contour of the bird. It is an interesting story and is plausible but this is an Internet Legend. "

Chris Purdom


:"I was reading the comments about your bird story and found the comments about the picture being digitally edited to be quite... paranoid? Picture one: Straight lines... commonly on signs, white lines are used to "announce" the sign better. Other than that, I don't see what he's talking about. As far as a "halo"... Unless the bird has been saved by Christ, I think this guy needs to stop trying to view these images at 2 in the morning after a night out on the town. Picture 3: The birds wing does something "striking." Bird wings are designed to flap that way for a reason... I don't know many Starlings with front swept wings. Its leg in that "curious" position... I would prefer it there than smashing it into the coin return. Picture 4: If you really look at what the angle is, the shadow is correct, it appears to be some time around noon for the shadown are cast downward. And for the pixels... I don't see what he's talking about here either. Picture 5: As !
for the white spot, I don't see that either, I also don't see why he's wasting his time telling people that some images are wrong... with that in mind, I also don't know why anyone would spend that much time getting the pictures and investigating them that far. Furthermore... Just to ease the pain of anyone wondering the same question about me... I'm an unemployed college student, I'm suppost to be wasting my time. BTW very interesting story, I enjoyed it quite a bit".

 Brian Zuber
Kalamazoo, MI


"I looked at the Change is in the Air story about Starlings taking quarters. Without being sure, I have a strong suspicion that this was done in photoshop; That the Starlings were flying away with food put there for them, and that the quarters and shadows were photoshopped in. What do you think? "

Rusty Scalf
Berkeley, CA


 "I guess my only observation would be that the bird(s) seem to be taking coins from the return change cup.  The only people out any money would be customers that failed to retrieve their change.  The car wash owner would not be out any money and have no reason to “catch” a thief.  Admittedly, $4,000 is a lot of lost change but, the money deposit slots are clear in the picture and not accessible to birds.
If it was that easy for birds, wouldn’t a human or 2 have figured that out too?"

William Wallner
San Diego, CA


" In 1991 I was in a car wreck in Tulsa, OK. I ended up hand-rearing a starling as part of my recovery. I eventually moved to Alaska and moved the bird with me, but was not able to keep him when I moved to Callifornia. I left him with a girlfriend in Alaska and he is still healthy and doing well.

I find the story VERY plausible and wouldn't be surprised if it did occur twice (see comments on story). I learned much, much about these savvy little creatures through library research and through personal experience. Starlings are VERY curious little creatures and they love shiny, bright objects. My bird had a "stash" in his cage of objects he had "stolen" while flying free in the house. Rings, change, pebbles, pop tabs. He would scream and peck me when I would clean out his "stash." I found my bird in cupboards, the refrigerator, INSIDE coffee mugs and glasses, under the couch, and in other unimaginable places. They are clever and adept at getting into tight areas.

AND they are very smart! These birds actually seem to learn by interacting with their social environment. Once the bird figured out that those bright, shiny objects went into the machine, she would worry the problem until she figured out how to retrieve some goodies for herself. They seem to be at their happiest when investigating their environment (or bathing, but that's another story)".

Randi Swynford
Long Beach, CA

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