This is why drunk birds might be flying into your windows

Published: November 13, 2020

Northern Cardinal coming in for a landing, birds Photo by Rob Palmer Photography/Shutterstock

If you’re noticing more birds than usual flying into your windows, or perhaps their flight patterns seem erratic, it’s possible that you’ve come across avian alcoholics.

Blame first frosts, which can cause berries or tree fruit still on bushes or trees to ferment. Birds, eager to bulk up for winter, eat the fermented fruit. And though waxwings and other fruit-eating birds have especially large livers that help them process the alcohol, they also have expandable esophagi, explains Meghan Larivee, who works with the Yukon government’s Animal Health Unit. This allows the birds to store berries in their throats and, if those berries have fermented, become intoxicated. Before you know it, the birds have their wings around each other and are belting out an off-key chorus of “Fly Like An Eagle.”

Or, not quite.

They might, however, seem disoriented, erratic, clumsy, or relatively immobile. Along with waxwings, says Larivee, birds that are particularly susceptible due to how much fruit they eat are grosbeaks, cardinals, magpies, some blackbirds.

What can we do if we come across a tipsy bird (or an inebriated raccoon—birds aren’t the only ones who can get a bit trashed by eating fermented fruit)?

“Often they just need time to recover,” says Larivee, speaking for all of us the morning after. If the bird hit a window and seems dazed or is vulnerable to your neighbour’s house cat or other predator, you can put it gently in a box with air holes until it seems to have regained its bearings. Occasionally, birds who look okay can nonetheless have sustained internal injuries that might require professional attention, so if the bird doesn’t seem to be recovering, reach out to your local wildlife organization for instructions on what to do.

But for the most part, just leave the bird alone, and be glad it’s not you who’ll be nursing a hangover and trying to piece together the night before.

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