Birds with human arms have a long history.
Though I am new to the phenomenon, I’m confident when I tell you that people have been making images of birds with human arms for eight years and in that time no one has so much as intimated the reasoning behind birds with human arms.
Nonetheless, I believe there’s a value in chronicling the history of this majestic art form.
On August 11th, 2008, Reelapse.com form user “Black Jacques” created a thread called “Post pictures of birds with arms.” “Black Jacques” included an image, but it has since been erased from the internet, leaving in its place the “dead image” icon.
As far as I can tell, this was the first human-armed bird, though this fact has been vaguely disputed on Reddit.
Reeelapse.com was originally founded in the late 1990s as a message board for fans of the underground music label Relapse Records, according to an administrator who did not want to be named. The admin says most of the conversation used to revolve around “grindcore” and death metal, but music is rarely discussed anymore and the post volume, the mod explains, is about 5 percent of what it once was.
Apparently the forum’s leaders been contacted by Relapse Records about changing its name. If you look at this unsavory Twitter account full of what the admin described as Reeelapse.com’s “greatest hits” that will help you to understand why.
There are 529 posts in the Birds with Arms thread, though a lot of the original image links appear, like the first image, to either be broken or viewable only to forum members.
Here is a good one that remains on the site:
On February 16th, 2009, a user named Paradox86 started a thread in the Something Awful forums titled “Photoshop Arms Onto Birds… Seriously!” The user gave some justification for the request, but does not credit the Reeelapse.com board for inspiration.
“It’s pretty simple. A friend and I agreed that birds are pretty pissed that they don’t have arms. We decided this should be fixed. Now, you.”
Nevertheless, there are 14 pages of enthusiastic replies. Though the subscription-based forums for web culture site Something Awful are probably best known as the birthplace of the internet demon / IRL problem Slenderman, its brand of birds with arms is pretty good.
A few days later, the challenge was posted on the Something Awful main page as part of the site’s popular “Photoshop Phriday” feature. The post, written by frequent Something Awful contributor Josh Boruff, lauds Paradox86 for thinking up “one of those magical themes that nobody should have ever thought of, but thank god they did.” Unfortunately, as we know, Paradox86 was not the first to think about what birds would look like with arms, nor the first to will his thoughts into creation with Photoshop, nor the first to inspire a legion of soldiers in the “birds with arms” army.
Nevertheless, more birds with arms get made thanks to this prompt.
Some of them are fun, such as these guys:
Some of them are very offensive and retroactively ruin the fun.
On May 29th, 2009 someone started a Tumblr called “Birds with Arms,” which has the tag line “Photoshop arms on to birds. Send them to us.” The first few images posted on the blog were stolen from the Something Awful forums, but the blog has continued publishing and reblogging images of birds with arms semi-regularly for the last seven years. The most recent post is from June 30th, 2016.
Here are some birds I like (they have arms):
On May 4th, 2011 someone started another bird-arm Tumblr, this one called “Fuck Yeah Birds with Arms.” There is no About section on this Tumblr but it does prominently feature a disclaimer that says “this blog does not own ‘birds with arms’ media.” So, as far as I’m concerned, the intellectual property rights for “birds with arms” are still up in the air.
This is the first image from that blog:
Here is another bird with human arms that appears on this Tumblr, and in the best dimension, it was this image that inspired the even greater “birds with human arms kissing birds with human arms” meme:
While the form and content of “birds with arms” posts seems to have evolved very little over time, I will say that pigeons and penguins are easily the most popular choice of bird and “muscly” is easily the most popular choice of arm. If you scroll through either of these Tumblrs for awhile I’m sure you’ll agree.
The same year, somebody creates the aforementioned Birds with Arms subreddit called r/birdswitharms. There are a lot of rules for this subreddit. For example: “Make sure it’s a bird with arms and not a person with a bird head!” and “People with bird heads belong at r/peoplewithbirdheads.” It’s a pretty good subreddit full of pretty good birds with human arms but it also led me down an internet hole, culminating tragically with a subreddit called r/WatchPigeonsDie. This subreddit is not suitable for anyone, and I refuse to link to it. But I will include its banner.
Some other related subreddits that are delightful include: r/snakeswitharms, r/insectswithfeet, r/sharkswithhumanteeth, r/catswithpeoplefeet, r/bearswithbeaks, and r/dinosaursonbicycles.
The web culture blog Sad and Useless finds out about birds with human arms.
Here’s a bird with human arms they like:
Eat Liver, a website that aggregates weird internet photos, finds out about birds with human arms.
Here’s a bird with human arms they like:
Shortly after, The Huffington Post, a massive news organization, finds out about birds with human arms. The Huffington Post doesn’t know why birds with human arms exist, and this is the only commentary they offer on the matter:
“If there’s one thing that we know about birds, it’s that they look absolutely ridiculous with human arms.
It’s hard to argue with that.
Here’s a bird with human arms The Huffington Post likes:
Kaitlyn Tiffany finds out about birds with human arms three years after The Huffington Post does.
Generally the point of looking up something’s history is to understand it better — to come closer to knowing why other people care that it exists. After reading dozens of comments on the Birds with Arms subreddit, and lurking on several different forums, I found no insight.
There is no reason for birds to have human arms.
People on the internet just started doing it, which caused some different people on the internet to start doing it.
All I’ve learned is that I’m worried and disturbed by the suggestibility of the human mind. Returning for a second to the matter of Something Awful’s main contribution to society, birds with arms reminds me, in some ways, of Slenderman, despite being significantly less scary. It’s an image that’s slightly off, a subtle form of body horror that disturbs the mind.
But birds with humans arms are also goofy. There’s something pleasurable at looking at these flexed birds. Disturbing and pleasurable, birds with human arms are the salty sweets of photoshops. That’s my guess for why everyone likes them, or at least shares them, even if I still have no idea where the basic idea came from. It’s frustrating, but it’s also a good reminder that not everything online is imbued with meaning or cultural importance. Some stuff exists.
Sometimes a bird just has human arms.
Birds with human arms have cropped up on the websites of shiny modern media companies, in the pits of the internet where men’s rights activists and anti-SJW crusaders slip political opinions into the images, amid the comfortable, easy humor of Tumblr, and on Reddit — a unique community with the reach of a modern media company, the lawlessness of golf rush town, the despicable chaos of an MRA forum, and boundless spontaneity and creativity.
It took me eight years to find birds with human arms because, like everything on the internet, they are everywhere and nowhere. And they mean nothing.