Spring Is in the Air—and So Are Intoxicated Birds

When some species feed on fermented berries, they can end up getting too tipsy to fly.

What do Charlie Sheen, Christina Aguilera, and a brown owl in Germany have in common? Their drunken exploits make the headlines. Earlier this year German police responded to reports of an owl interfering with traffic and found the owl—one eyelid drooping—amid two discarded bottles of schnapps. After concluding it’d had one too many, they took the inebriated animal to a local bird expert who has treated sloshed birds before, Spiegel Online reports. It was given water and set free once it sobered up.

Yet birds don’t need manmade liquor to get drunk—nature provides the means for intoxication this time of year. “Fermentation toxicity is most common in late winter and early spring when thawing of overwintered berries allows for yeast fermentation of the sugars in the berries,” reports the National Wildlife Health Center.

Cedar waxwings and robins are most likely to gorge on fermented blackberries, pyracantha or juniper berries, crabapples or mountain ash fruits. “These birds may be tipsy, inadvertent victims of alcohol consumption,” Oregon State University’s Extension Office reports.

Last March a berry binge led to the deaths of about 50 cedar waxwings found along a road in Harris County, Texas. National Wildlife Health Center tests showed that berries collected from a nearby Ilex shrub contained 800 ppm ethanol by wet weight: “enough to produce intoxication in these birds that could have resulted in compromised behavior and subsequent fatal trauma.”

Tipsy birds may be more likely to smash into windows, so consider putting decals on the large reflective surfaces. (Check out our info on window decals and bird-safe building guidelines.) If a bird crashes into your window and survives, Jeff Picton of the Chintimini Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Corvallis recommends leaving it alone if it’s not in danger from cats or other predators.

If you think it might be threatened, pick it up gently with a towel, place it in a well-ventilated box, and put that in a dark, quiet place. Once the bird begins moving around, open the container and let it fly away if it can. If it doesn’t recover within a few hours, Picton recommends calling your local wildlife rehabilitation center for further instructions.