Watch out for birds FWI — Flying While Intoxicated

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.

Olympic National Park. Elwha Valley’s Olympic Hot Springs Road is closed until further notice to finish pacing a newly repaired section. The closure is for cars, hikers, bikers and horse riders. Crews hope to reopen the road by the end of this month.

In the Quinault Valley, the Graves Creek Road is now open, as is Graves Creek Campground​. Both roads have been closed since November 2015 following a series of storms and floods.

Staircase Campground is closed but the area is open during the winter for day use and trailhead access. Sol Duc Campground will close for the season on Oct. 30. The Sol Duc Road will remain open as the weather permits.

The Heart O’the Hills, Hoh, Mora and Kalaloch campgrounds remain open year-round.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or

Talk to us

More in Life

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay walks into the Prohibition Grille along Hewitt Avenue in Everett Wednesday Dec. 5, 2012 while reportedly filming an episode of Kitchen Nightmares at the Everett restaurant. (Mark Mulligan / The Herald)
Even more films and TV shows filmed in Snohomish County

Readers point out projects previously missed in this series, from reality television to low-budget indie films.

Daniella Beccaria / for The Herald

15-month-old Kantu attempts to climb a pumpkin at Stocker Farms in Snohomish on Sunday, September 20th, 2015. Stocker Farms offers a U-pick patch, farm animals and a corn maze.
Best pumpkin patch in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied, here are the results.

Local musician Alex Johnston, whose newest album "Daylight Fooldream" pairs with short film he made with help from his partner Mikaela Henderson, sits with his morning coffee on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Folktronica musician shoots 37-minute visual album on iPhone in Everett

Alex Johnston, 31, describes his music as ”if Coldplay and Bon Iver had a love child.”

Death of parent with child. Piece of paper with parents and children is torn in half.
Helping children cope with the hard realities of divorce

I’s important to set aside one’s feelings and find a way to make this challenging transition as comfortable for children as you can.

In Belgium, each type of beer has its own glass – whether wide, tall, or fluted – to show off its distinct qualities.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Bruges brews lift a weary traveler’s spirits

The Belgian city is a mecca for beer lovers from around the world.

Children’s author Barbara Herkert to lead Story Time at Edmonds Bookshop, Friday September 29th, 9:30-10:00 am!
Author to read her new kids book at Edmonds bookstore

Author Barbara Herkert will read “This Old Madrone Tree” Friday at Edmonds Bookshop.

Flowering knotweed Persicaria amplexicaulis firetail in the morning light.
Save for one infamous variety, fleece flowers are easy to fall in love with

This long-blooming, easy-to-grow perennial comes in many desirable varieties. But watch out: One is an invasive knotweed.

Can he get the fare difference refunded after he was downgraded?

American Airlines downgrades Thomas Sennett and his family to economy class on their flights from Boston to Phoenix. Why isn’t it refunding the fare difference?

From left, Elora Coble, Carol Richmond, David Hayes, Karli Reinbold, Giovanna Cossalter Walters, Landon Whitbread in a scene from Edmonds Driftwood Players' production of "Murder on the Orient Express." (Dale Sutton / Magic Photography)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Edmonds Driftwood Players opens its 65th season with Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Most Read