Flocks of Bohemian waxwing birds in Whitehorse, Canada seem to have found their own supply of “ice wine.” As The Toronto Star recently reported, a series of frosts and thaws have led to berries fermenting on mountain ash trees. The waxwings, which are getting ready for the winter, have been eating whatever they can get their beaks on. It turns out the boozy berries are easy pickings, which is what has led to flocks of drunken birds. And that’s not even the craziest part of this story. We’ll break this down for you:
Species like the waxwings actually have pretty good alcohol tolerance, owing to oversized livers, but nonetheless gobbling up too much fermented fruit can leave them in a stupor.
Alas, that tolerance can’t handle a secondary round of fermentation. No, we’re not talking about sparkling wine:
The problem is compounded, [Meghan Larivee of Environment Yukon’s animal health unit] says, when the birds store extra berries in their crops — an expandable pouch in the throat — where the berries ferment further before entering the digestive system, giving the birds a second hit of the joy juice.
What do you do with double-drunk birds who are crashing into windows? What do you with the town drunk? Toss ’em in the drunk tank:
Late last week, several Bohemian waxwings were brought to Environment Yukon after townspeople saw them feeding on mountain ash berries, then flying erratically and crashing into windows. The stunned birds were collected and placed in hamster cages to sober up.
“They needed to recover and have some alone time,” says Larivee.
If you were wondering, blood-alcohol tests were not administered:
She couldn’t confirm whether the birds in her care were actually drunk — “we’d have to do a blood-alcohol test on them” — but their beaks were stained red with mountain ash berry juice: a strong sign that they had been flying while imbibing.
We should point out as farcical as this all sounds, it’s actually a serious situation, which is why the government’s environmental agents are responding:
According to a 2012 paper in the Journal of Ornithology, entire flocks of drunken cedar waxwings — a close cousin of the Bohemian waxwings — crashed to their deaths in Los Angeles in 2006 and 2007 after gorging on fermented berries. And there’s a similar phenomenon in Australia’s Northern Territory, where fermenting fruit leads to an annual drunken parrot season during which colourful lorikeets stagger about aimlessly and fall from trees.
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