I stepped out of the house on a sunny morning last week and was greeted by a chorus of chipping and chirping at a volume that rivaled, no, surpassed, the sound levels of bird songs of birds in the spring.
It wasn’t a matter of one large flock making that ruckus. Several species were well into a feeding frenzy in the madronas, mostly belligerent robins, crows and juncos but a few others, as well, all interested in the orange-red berries.
A large amount of fermented fruit can turn a bird tipsy: blackberries, holly berries, crabapples, juniper berries, etc.
Intoxicated birds are more likely to be seen in winter or spring, depending on the area of the country and the type of fruits.
So dig out the avian breathalyzer — the birds may be getting tipsy at the Madrona Cafe.
I’ve seen staggering robins, and the one that flew by this week looked like it was trying to put the brakes on in mid-air.
There have been countless reports of intoxicated birds falling out of trees, and while I haven’t seen that, I have seen one using a wing to balance on a limb.
In a study at the Oregon Science &Health University, captive zebra finches were given spiked (6 percent alcohol) juice. According to a researcher, the birds had trouble singing (slurring?) and their sound production was less organized.
There was a report in the Journal of Ornithology about flocks of cedar waxwings dying after flying into fences and windows in broad daylight in Los Angeles.
Some bodies were sent for necropsies. Researchers concluded that the birds had been healthy but had stuffed themselves with fermented berries from Brazilian pepper trees.
Cedar waxwings’ diet is about 85 percent fruit, the highest percentage of any North American bird. Their internal organs can process large amounts and usually their large livers can break down the alcohol before it causes damage.
But the waxwings had gobbled up so many berries, they could not process them quickly enough, perhaps leading to erratic flying.
Just this month in Austria, a flock of starlings began dive-bombing cars and trucks, resulting in startled drivers, dead birds, and miles-long traffic jams. Apparently they had been eating fermented berries and could no longer manage basic flying skills.
No one has done a double-blind study of the effect of fermenting berries on birds so there’s still wiggle room for other theories.
What if the birds are simply overeating (think of what you do on Thanksgiving) and their center of gravity is thrown off, a state that might include staggering or trouble flying and not require alcohol? A dozen berries in a robin weighing less than three ounces is a significant percentage.
If nothing else, the sudden surge of sugar might lead to hyperactivity. Or perhaps it’s a combination of too many berries plus alcohol.
After all, correlation does not mean causation; correlation can be a coincidence.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.