The Drunk Bird Phenomenon: Do Birds Get Drunk?

December 22, 2021 // 8 minute read

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Have you ever looked up to the sky and wondered, “Hey, that bird looks drunk.” Have you ever heard of Drunk Bird Phenomenon?

Well, even though you did have a good laugh at that, perhaps the bird you saw wasn’t just looking drunk because there is a big possibility that it is actually drunk. 

Yes, birds can get drunk, and it happened a lot of times. In fact, it even caused some big troubles in towns, as they swerved into cars, windows, trees, and buildings. 

This incident is what people call the “Drunk Bird Phenomenon”, and the number one culprit seen is the fermented berries. 

In this article, we’re going to dive deeper into this phenomenon and discuss: 

  • Recorded drunk bird phenomenon
  • What causes the drunk bird phenomenon
  • What happens to drunk birds
  • What to do if you find a drunk bird
  • Affected bird species

So, if you’re curious to know more about any of the topics above, read on… 

Drunk Bird Phenomenon on Records

Birds can get drunk, and there are a series of studies and records that prove this fact. 

One, in particular, is in 1999, where the U.K.’s Animal and Plant Health agency diagnosed a group of redwings and found significant levels of alcohol in their liver. It is said that the birds experienced fatal falls down to concrete from a berry-laden holly bush. 

And then, in 2011, a veterinary scientist from the same agency was called in to investigate the deaths of 12 blackbirds in an elementary school. Just like with the redwings, the group also detected significant levels of alcohol in the birds’ liver. 

In 2007, someone in Greenville, North Carolina, also found several dead Cedar Waxwings in front of an office. Based on the person’s observation, the birds didn’t appear to have any injuries. He then added that he saw this bird species in the holly trees eating berries. He wondered if there was any relation of this activity to the death of the birds. 

There’s also a 2012 study wherein scientists from California examined cedar waxwings that fatally crashed into windows and fences. The same birds were also recorded to have been hammered in 1990.

Even National Geographic reported Bohemian Waxwings displaying tipsy behavior while their beaks are stained with berries. And in 2018, drunk birds in Minnesota were reported to crash onto cars, windows, and trees. 

Just recently, in 2021, more drunk birds were spotted in Texas swerving into windows, fences, and even cars. 

The drunk bird phenomenon is commonly happening in different areas of the world. And the sad thing is, these are probably the only few moments that have been recorded. 

Who knows how many more birds died out there due to intoxication. The worse thing is, they might not even realize what gets them drunk. 

To understand why this is happening, let’s dive deeper into this subject by talking about the cause of this phenomenon – fermented fruits and berries. 

Fermented Fruits – The Culprit Of The Drunk Bird Phenomenon

Whenever researchers found birds in a drunken state or have fatally fallen because of it, they found one thing in common: 

  • They have just been seen eating fruits
  • They were recently found flocking around fruit-bearing trees
  • Their mouths are stained with berries

But why do these fruits or berries cause birds to get drunk? Well, this is most likely because they were already fermented by the time the birds ate them. 

The fruit fermentation mainly occurs during springtime when the sun starts thawing the fruits that have been frozen throughout winter. Because of this, birds that start eating right after these berries are thawed would end up getting drunk. 

This is actually why waxwings are the ones most affected by this phenomenon: they eat fruits primarily. 

Be Sure To Check Out Our Birdwatching 101 Guide, Perfect For People Interested In Learning More About Birdwatching!

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What Happens When Birds Get Drunk? 

So, what happens when birds get drunk? 

When you’re drunk, your surroundings are starting to blur. It would also be hard for you to balance as you feel sleepy. And just like us, birds start experiencing the same thing. 

Drunk birds swerve around as they’re no longer able to control their flight. If they’re in an open area, it’s possible that they’ll survive. If not, there’s a big possibility that they’ll hit trees, windows, and even buildings. 

With no sense of direction, eating fermented fruits can lead birds to their death. 

If lucky, they might be able to reach a branch to rest. But most of the time, they can’t and will hit something hard due to intoxication.  

What To Do If You Find A Drunk Bird?

You might be wondering, if you happen to come across a drunk bird, what would be the next step? Well, the steps are pretty similar to when you need to care for a bird that flew into a window. 

According to Dennis Fast, a bird enthusiast, birds getting drunk is a normal occurrence. And most of the time, the alcohol fades from their system after a few minutes. So it is the best course of action to pick up the bird and let it rest in a safe place. 

To go into more detail, here’s a step by step process of what you need to do: 

  1. Observe the bird and approach it slowly. Although the bird is drunk, it might be alert and will attempt to flee, causing it to get hurt more. 
  1. Use gloves when picking up the bird and wrap it safely in a towel. 
  1. Check for any injuries that might be fatal. If there are any wounds, bandage them and contact a professional for help. 
  1. Keep the bird inside a box with holes to let it rest. This should help the bird recover fast from intoxication, which usually takes a few hours. 

Once the bird seems okay, make sure to release it in an open area, so it doesn’t hit any cars, trees, windows, and buildings again. 

But if the bird doesn’t seem to wake up from intoxication after a few hours, it’s best to call an expert to examine the bird even further. 

With the drunk bird phenomenon frequently happening, it might be impossible to save every bird affected by it. However, knowing what to do when you come across such an incident will still help save a good amount of birds. 

Waxwings: The Most Affected Bird Species and The Way They Adapt 

As mentioned above, birds who eat lots of fruits are the ones mostly affected by this phenomenon. One particular bird species is the Cedar Waxwings. 

Through the years, different Waxwings have been reported in other parts of the world displaying drunken behavior and dying because of it. And somehow, this experience helped the birds find a way to fight the effects of fermented berries. 

According to several studies, most birds that fatally die are young ones. Because they have not eaten many fermented fruits or berries, their bodies haven’t adapted well yet, causing them to die. 

On the other hand, Adult Waxwings have been found to have larger livers that are believed to help control the level of intoxication berries give them. Because of this, they can settle on branches and rest until their drunkenness wears off. 

Final Say About The Drunk Bird Phenomenon

The drunk bird phenomenon is an event that happens mostly during springtime wherein groups of birds are seen fatally crashing into cars, trees, or buildings while in a drunken state. This behavior is caused by fermented fruits or berries, and are found to have alcohol levels of vodka when consumed by birds. 

Although a common occurrence in the bird world, it seems that there’s nothing that we can really do to stop it from happening again. 

Yes, it’s sad that birds have to suffer the consequence of eating fermented fruits during winter, but it also won’t be much help if we suggest cutting down fruit-bearing trees. 

With the look of things, it seems that this phenomenon will just continue on. But now that you’re aware of it, the next time you find a drunk bird, don’t laugh because it might need to be cared for to ensure its safety. 

When you see birds fallen to the ground, help them until they recover from the intoxication. That’s the best thing we can do for now. 

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