Fowl Play in Minnesota Skies: Birds Flying Under the Influence
A robin crashes into the windshield of a parked car. A cute little thrush flails wildly as it tries to avoid a bicyclist. The spikey head of a waxwing is seen falling from a tree along with the autumn leaves.
What’s going on in Gilbert, Minnesota?
These birds are acting a lot like humans when they’ve overindulged on alcohol. That’s because the birds – like humans after a few drinks – are drunk.
Are They Putting Alcohol in the Minnesota Birdbaths?
No, locals are not feeding pools of alcohol to the resident bird population. The fowls are getting tipsy due to a natural seasonal phenomenon.
The area experienced an early frost this year. This sped up the fermentation process of berries that grow throughout the region. National Geographic explains that freezing temperatures cause berries to convert starches into sugars. Then, when the berries thaw, they ferment. This year, frost hit Minnesota berries early, before the area’s birds migrated south for the winter. Normally, the berries would not become “alcoholic” until late winter. As a result, birds are now snacking on fermented berries that leave them a little tipsy.
Certain bird species are more susceptible to these effects because they eat more berries than their fellow fowls. Thrushes, waxwings, and robins are among those most likely to be seen acting “drunk” in the skies above Minnesota. Young birds, whose livers are not fully matured, are the most susceptible to the berries’ effects.
Should Minnesota Open a Bird Rehab Center?
Authorities say there is no reason for alarm. Residents may simply have more close encounters with birds than usual this season, as their feathered friends bumble about in a half-drunken state. Matthew Dodder, a bird expert, reports, “They just get sloppy and clumsy. They have actually fallen out of trees on occasion.”
To help these inebriated birds, residents can place decals on windows. These will help birds avoid fatal crashes with reflective surfaces that are harder to detect when their bird brains are under the influence.
If a bird collides with a window and survives, witnesses should usually leave the bird alone. If it is in danger due to predators, residents can pick up the bird and place it in a ventilated box for a few hours. It will likely revive and recover. Like a drunk human, it may simply need to sleep it off. If the bird doesn’t recover after a few hours, a local wildlife rehabilitation center can be called for assistance.
Infographic by Timothy Esteves
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