There’s a party in Gilbert, Minnesota, and only birds are invited. This quiet town of 2,000, located about an hour’s drive north of Duluth, has been besieged by birds drunk on fermented berries, according to the local police department.
"We've sort of nicknamed it ‘berry benders,’” Gilbert Police Chief Ty Techer told Fox9. “The young birds’ livers can't process it as well; they seem to be loopier, for lack of a better term."
On Tuesday, Techer issued a public statement on the Gilbert Police Department’s Facebook page about the spike in avian inebriation, noting that officers had “received several reports of birds that appear to be ‘under the influence’ flying into windows, cars, and acting confused.”
The reason for that behavior, Techer said, was that an early frost had accelerated the fermentation process of the berries, relative to previous years. Because many birds had not yet migrated south for the winter, more birds than usual were exposed to the alcohol.
“There is no need to call law enforcement about these birds as they should sober up in a short period of time,” the statement advised.
Many comments on the post confirmed that local birds were crashing into windshields at an unusual rate, and some had been seen passed out or dead.
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This is not the first time birds have been caught binge-drinking. The “berry bender” phenomenon is so common across North America that some bird societies operate drunk tanks for birds that need to sober up.
There are academic studies on the subject as well, including this 2012 paper in the Journal of Ornithology that found heightened death rates for cedar waxwings that gorged on fermented berries. Sadly, fatalities from alcohol poisoning or collisions are common for intoxicated birds.
While most birds get drunk by ingesting fermented berries and fruits, sometimes they access alcohol made for humans. This past summer in England, numerous seagulls became inebriated by scavenging scraps from waste generated by breweries and other alcohol producers. In 2011, an owl in Germany was picked up by police after it was found reeling on the road next to two discarded bottles of Schnapps.
If you come across a drunk bird, the best thing to do is alert animal control and ensure that the animal is able to recover in a safe place.
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