It’s important to take breaks from the news of the human world and step into the animal kingdom. Most news about animals doesn’t leave us quite as disappointed in humanity, so it can be a pleasant respite. We take breaks after work and head to happy hour, so what’s to keep birds from doing the same thing?
Nitrogen, which makes up 79% of the air that birds so freely fly through, also plays a vital role in something these birds weren’t expecting: fermentation.
While drunk driving remains a problem that is in the top three causes of car accidents in the United States, the sober human residents of Gilbert, Minnesota were alarmed by some unusual avian behavior. They were alarmed enough to call the police to report birds acting erratically, falling, flying into things, and generally not fluttering as gracefully as we’re used to seeing. As it turns out, the birds were likely a little drunk.
From an early frost, the berries that local birds love to enjoy had started fermenting early. Thus, when they snacked on beaks full of boozy berries, just like human beings, they weren’t quite as coordinated as usual. Humans are cognizant of the effects of alcohol, so one can only imagine what was going through their little bird brains when a bunch of berries got them tipsy.
“Every now and then, some birds overdo it. They cannot coordinate their flight movements properly or at all, and they are unable to walk in a coordinated way,” said Meghan Larivee told National Geographic.
While most people would hardly be able to notice and point out that the birds were indeed intoxicated, they caused enough of a stir that people were phoning the police. What the police would be able to do about them was unclear and they ended up informing residents that the birds would sober up on their own.
This isn’t an isolated event and has been the object of study across North America and Europe. It’s leading researchers to ask questions about climate change, namely how seasonal weather events might affect more than just the boozing bird populations. While the question raises important concerns, these birds are usually victims of alcoholic happenstance.
There have been some more eerily tragic instances of people finding groups of birds dead in the yards. Rather than it being an extraterrestrial or paranormal event, hungry birds ate too many fermented berries and died from alcohol poisoning. Younger birds are more susceptible to the perils of alcohol and less deft at avoiding the berries in questions, whereas adults may have learned over time which berries to eat and which to avoid.