Parrots Are Getting Drunk on Rotten Mangoes and Flying Under the Influence

Some birds are getting so wasted that they’re flying into windows or being picked off by cats.
red-winged parrot
Sugar-rich mangoes can produce relatively high amounts of ethanol when they rot – and red-winged parrots are wasted on the stuff. Photo by Hal Beral, via Getty Images

Parrots in Australia are getting wasted on fermented fruit – and, in some cases, dying as a result of their drunken behaviour.

The end of the mango season in Western Australia’s Kimberley region means a lot of fallen produce, which subsequently rots and ferments in the sun, generating ethanol. This process of fermentation is similar to that which yields wine from grapes, as yeasts consume the fruits’ sugars and create ethanol as a byproduct. Mangoes, which are particularly sugar rich, can produce relatively high levels of alcohol. And that alcohol is being guzzled by some of the area’s resident red-winged parrots.

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Paul Murphy, from Broome Veterinary Hospital, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that at least six inebriated birds were brought into the clinic showing the symptoms of ethanol poisoning last week. Many more, he suggested, have died from intoxication before they could be rescued.

“So far, we've seen about half a dozen in total, but there are a lot of them, unfortunately, that don't make it to the clinic because they pass away before people find them,” Murphy said. “Usually, they've been suffering for a couple of days … They're quite lethargic and at various stages of malnutrition.”

In some cases, he added, birds have died not as a direct result of the alcohol itself, but rather the second-hand effects – such as being too paralytic to move, or flying under the influence.

“We’re hearing a few reports of flying into windows and sitting on the floor, not being able to fly and being vulnerable to cats and other predators.”

This isn’t the first time parrots have earned a reputation for indulging in small-scale substance abuse. In 2019, farmers in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh complained of a scourge of insatiable parrots that were pillaging their opium poppy crops to such an extent as to significantly impact their livelihoods. In some cases, poppy farmers were forced to guard their crops at all hours of the day and night in a bid to fend off the frenzied birds. 

“We have tried making loud sounds and even use firecrackers to scare the birds. But nothing has helped,” Nandkishore, a poppy farmer from the Neemuch district of central India, said at the time. “These opium-addicted parrots are wreaking havoc.”

In 2015 there were reports of a similar problem taking place in the districts of Chittorgarh and Pratapgarh. According to an article by DNA India, these parrots were often so obviously intoxicated from the poppies that they were seen crashing into trees and branches or found lying dazed in a nearby field after having indulged in the drug.

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