Amid a rough news cycle, the internationally famous drunk migrating waxwings of Minnesota

So, drunk birds have been in the news.

It started as a headline in my newsfeed that birds were drunk in Gilbert, Minn. Given the location and the time of year and that there were no photos of the drunk birds, I assumed that the cool weather caused a warbler fallout and that young yellow-rumped warblers and palm warblers were flying low to the ground, grabbing insects and flying into windows and cars. It’s happened to me this time of year along the North Shore.

Soon reporters started calling every bird expert in the state looking for quotes, and I heard from FOX News. I told them that it is possible for birds to get drunk, but the birds in questions are most likely not drunk. The reporter said, “Look, the news is terrible right now; drunk birds is a fun story.”


So I told him about my experiences with drunk birds. I’ve been a sober ride for cedar waxwings a few times in later winter and early spring. The most memorable was when my neighbor called me from outside the YWCA in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. She said that there was a brown bird trying to fly into the ground and flapping in circles. I was biking and about five minutes from that location, so I headed over. By the time I arrived a few people were standing around the bird on the ground. Sure enough, it was trying to fly into the ground. I noted the shriveled crabapples above and approached the scene.

“It’s a cedar waxwing,” I noted.

“Is it poisoned?” my neighbor asked.

“No, it’s just drunk,” I said. “It’s been eating these fermented berries above us. I’ll put it in my bike satchel and take it home where it can sleep it off.”

As I grabbed the waxwing and gingerly set it inside my bag, it gave me that look so familiar from all the drunk friends in college who spent the night on my couch: “Leave me alone, man.”

Back home, I told my husband not to open my bag because it contained a bird.

“Dead or alive?” he asked, by now used to my habit of collecting window-killed birds.

“We’re waiting to find out,” I said.


An hour later I checked on the waxwing. Much like those drunk friends who spend the night, the bird had vomited and was now standing up. The pellet it cast was from all the fermented berry casings it had eaten. The intoxication came from gorging on the fermented berries; the ones stored in its crop overwhelmed its little body with alcohol before the bird could properly digest them. I gave it a little more time to sober up and took it outside for release. The bird could perch on my fingers but did not fly away. As dismayed as I was that it didn’t register me as a threat, what a treat to hold such a gorgeous creature in my hand.

I decided that it was going to have to spend the night and rigged up my pet rabbit’s carrier with a perch, some cherries and a shallow dish of water. The bird could continue to sleep it off, then carbo load and drink some water in the morning. If it still couldn’t fly away, I would take it to a wildlife rehabber.

The next morning my husband and I awoke to the high-pitched buzzing of the waxwing. It was definitely perkier and even ate some cherries. I took the crate outside and let the waxwing loose. The bird flew up and landed on a wire. I watched for a few minutes as the bird preened its feathers in the morning light. It then began to look a little drowsy and I wondered if I had released it too soon. Suddenly, a large flock of waxwings flew over, and the bird immediately became alert. It then did the flight of shame back to the flock and presumably lived happily ever after.

Categories: Sharon Stiteler

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