Is This A Pigeon?

Meme History: Is This A Pigeon? 

What began life as a moment from a late 20th-century children’s cartoon would a generation later be reborn as one of the internet’s most pervasive memes.


Kyle Calise


Posted on Mar 24, 2024   Updated on Mar 24, 2024, 8:37 am CDT

If you can correctly identify this creature, then you probably know more about the natural world than one of the most famous androids of 90s anime.

Like another one of our favorite memes, Arthur’s Fist, what began life as a moment from a late 20th-century children’s cartoon would a generation later be reborn as one of the internet’s most pervasive memes.

On February 16th 1991, animated television series The Brave of Sun Fighbird aired its third-ever episode. In the show, a humanoid robot named Yutaro Katori confuses a butterfly for a pigeon while studying the world around him.

Decades later, the subtitle was believed by many English-speakers to be miscaptioned, but the hilarity of it is that it’s actually correct.

In 2011, twenty years after the episode’s original run, a screenshot from that moment was posted to Tumblr, with funny spin-off versions ultimately warranting their own hashtag #is-this-a-pigeon.  From Tumblr, those memes moved to niche anime forums, and then the original screenshot began to be referenced on sites like BuzzFeed, which lent it more visibility.

The more specific it got the funnier it was. Is This A Pigeon as a meme was a great way to poke fun at the absurdity of an assumption—another way to say “I know better about this thing than you do.”

Often compared to a predecessor, Distracted Boyfriend, both memes are funny because they juxtapose two objects that when related back to the same subject, combine to form a witty criticism of the specific meme’s subject matter.

The original distracted boyfriend meme is funny because it compares Phil Collins’ new love of pop rock to a boyfriend’s wandering eye when he sees another woman. The joke is that he somehow betrayed prog rock as an institution.

In kind of the same way, Is This A Pigeon pokes fun at how anybody could be dumb enough to confuse a butterfly with a Pigeon.

By the spring of 2018, Is This A Pigeon was seven years old, and beginning to die down. But two new tweets were able to breathe new life into the now-elderly meme.

The first referenced how much men notice—or don’t notice—when women are wearing makeup, and the other by Netflix, talked about the weirdness of casting actresses in their late twenties as teenagers. Each post garnered over 7,400 retweets. This sparked renewed, massive interest, this time not just on Tumblr but also Twitter and Reddit.

In Body Image

And in June, a Twitter user juxtaposed the original Is This A Pigeon screenshot with one from a different anime of a female character holding an actual pigeon. Appropriately captioned, “Is this a butterfly?” that tweet went viral on its own, gaining over 35,000 retweets in just three days.

All of which brought new attention and greater popularity to Is This A Pigeon than ever before.

The internet is in love with anime, and also its own relentless proclivity for teasing people. And often one of the funniest ways to do that is by leveraging an already boneheaded joke. Is This A Pigeon fits squarely in the middle of that paradigm.

So, poor Yutaro the android. He was just excited to be alive, and we had to go and make him into a tool.

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*First Published: Mar 24, 2024, 6:00 am CDT