Press Parrots Police Talking Points on Arrest of Alleged Drug Dealers' Bird

It's fair to take the cops' account with a grain of salt.


You may have seen a wacky-sounding story about a bird trained by Brazilian drug traffickers to warn them when police were approaching. But this appears to be based off little more than the police's version of events, and there are reasons to doubt their account.

Here's what police say happened: As officers approached a house in northern Brazil on Monday, the parrot warned the home's residents, saying: "Mamãe, polícia!" (Mom, police!). Officers had been doing rounds in the area, and it's not clear whether they had particular suspicions about that house or just happened to be passing it. (The original news reports are in Portuguese, which I admittedly do not speak.)

"He must have been trained for this," an officer involved in the operation said, according to The Guardian. "As soon as the police got close he started shouting." The cops eventually entered the home and arrested two suspects they believe to be crack cocaine dealers. The bird, which they also took into custody, was reportedly given to a zoo, where it will be trained to fly for several months and then freed. Police eventually released video footage of officers finding what appeared to be bags of cocaine in the house.

It was a weird story, and press outlets were quick to parrot it. "Police seize 'super obedient' lookout parrot trained by Brazilian drug dealers," The Guardian declares. Fox News' headline is almost identical: "Brazilian police seize 'super obedient' parrot trained as lookout for drug dealers."

"Parrot would warn drug dealers when cops came near," says the New York Daily News. The U.K. Daily Mail went with "'Mom, the cops are here!' Narco parrot is set to do time—at a zoo in Brazil—after it alerted its owners to police before drugs bust."

But here's the thing: Ever since the bust, the bird hasn't said a whole lot. By some accounts, it hasn't talked at all. "The police said that when they arrived the parrot started shouting 'the police arrived, the police arrived.' But here in the [police station], he was quiet and silent," Salma Barros, an attorney for the arrested suspects, tells the Brazilian newspaper Meio Norte.

"So far it hasn't made a sound…completely silent," a reporter for the Brazilian broadcaster Globo adds, according to The Guardian.

"Lots of police officers have come by and he's said nothing," Alexandre Clark, a local veterinarian, tells Globo.

It's certainly possible the bird was trained to warn its owners of approaching police. This kind of thing has happened before. But it's also possible(as my Reason colleague Scott Shackford pointed out on Twitter) that police made it all up in order to justify a drug raid after the fact. Without proof that the police are telling the truth, it's at least worth considering the possibility they're not.

Brazil, after all, has a long history of police abuse, in large part due to the country's yearslong war on drugs. Take their word with a grain of salt.