Manitoba

Flying under the influence: Those awkward birds falling out of trees are actually drunk

People in southeastern Manitoba have been noticing birds acting odd lately — smashing into things and falling off their tree branches, almost like they are drunk.

Typically it only happens in the spring, but Manitoba birds are getting drunk from fermented fruit this fall

American robins and Bohemian and cedar waxwings are getting drunk from fermented fruit, Fast says. (Submitted by Dennis Fast)

People in southeastern Manitoba have spotted birds acting odd lately — smashing into things and falling off tree branches, almost like they are drunk.

In fact, birds are actually flying while intoxicated.

"When the birds literally stagger around and they're flopping around a little bit and they can't walk straight and stuff like that, it's hilarious to see," said Dennis Fast, a professional photographer and bird enthusiast.

'It happens quite frequently. Maybe not every year, but but yeah it happens quite frequently and I get reports about it,' Fast says. (Submitted by Dennis Fast)

Fast calls it "drunken bird syndrome" and it's caused by birds eating fermented fruits and berries.

"It happens quite frequently. Maybe not every year, but yeah, it happens quite frequently and I get reports about it," he said.

Normally it happens in spring, after trees such as the mountain ash and crabapple hold their fruit through the winter. When spring comes, with its thawing and freezing cycles, and the sun starts to warm the fruit, it begins to ferment.

Typically the fruit freezes with the first frost in fall and they stay frozen till spring, but with the freezing and thawing cycles that happened in September and October this year, fruit is fermenting now.

And the birds are getting drunk.

"They take off and they miss their mark, or should I say they hit their mark, because they can't find the branch. That's a good sign" that they're drunk, said Fast.

Typically the America robin and the Bohemian and cedar waxwing are the most affected by this.

While it seems like tiny birds shouldn't be getting drunk, it's not something we need to be too concerned about, because the birds get over it pretty quickly, Fast said.

"It's a temporary thing, and you know, once they are a little bit drunk, they probably stop eating and pretty soon it's over," he said. "I don't see it as a big concern, it's just kind of fun to watch."

He says you shouldn't take down your mountain ash berries as a precaution because they're a vital food all winter long. 

"You'll notice in the winter when the Bohemian waxwings come in huge flocks drifting in from the Rockies into the Prairies, they absolutely need those berries and it's a delight to behold when they're feeding in the bushes like that," said Fast.

Just sit back and enjoy a laugh at the drunken birds, he said.

With files from Wendy Jane Parker.

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