Drunk While Flying: Minnesota’s Avian Alcoholics

Sometimes silly season stories appear out of silly season.

Traditionally, the silly season is the last two weeks of July through Labor Day weekend. Congress is usually not in session during those weeks – no one who can avoid it wants to be Washington in July and August – and the president is either jaunting around the globe or (until this president) hanging out at Camp David, where it is usually 15 degrees cooler than Washington.

Since Congress and the president are usually away, so are the hordes of reporters who hover around them.  Silly season is when senior editors, columnists and beat reporters take time off (unless it is an election year which, these days, means every other year), leaving the second stringers in charge of the store.

So that’s why this silly season story is so unusual, hitting the wires at the beginning of October.

The CBS affiliate in Minneapolis is reporting an epidemic of drunkenness among the younger residents roosting in the small northeastern Minnesota town of Gilbert..but these teenagers already have their wings.  In a scenario reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1963 horror movie, The Birds, the avian residents of Gilbert are dive bombing the human residents of the town, flying around in circles, flying into windows and cars.

The birds appear to be drunk…because they are. They are drunk on fermented berries that fermented earlier than usual due to an early frost, which kills the berries, starting the fermentation process.  The early frost has apparently caught the bird by surprise because most of them haven’t started their annual migration yet. (Maybe they heard how hot it has been in the Southern States.)

The CBS report tells us that younger birds are more affected than the older birds, which might have something to do with body weight, suggesting that there should be a minimum drinking age for avians too.

In an effort to discourage residents from calling the police to report the drunken birds,  the Gilbert police department issued a statement indicating that the livers of younger birds can’t process toxins as well as more mature birds. Alcohol, as you might not recall if you have been drinking recently, is a toxin. The press release stressed that there was no need to call police because the birds should “sober up and fly straight” in what the release calls “a short period of time.”

Gilbert, Minnesota, is a village of around 1,790 people located around 200 miles due north of Minneapolis, a three hour drive on U.S. 53, which puts it around 30 miles from Hibbing, where Bob Dylan, Kevin McHale, Roger Maris and Gary Puckett (of Union Gap fame) all hailed from. No one famous was ever born in Gilbert, which is around a hundred miles south of the Canadian border putting it close to the middle of nowhere.

There are probably more birds than people in Gilbert, although no one has conducted a bird census to prove or disprove that statement. According to an article in the Washington Post, “certain bird species, such as robins, cedar waxwings and thrushes, are the most prone to drunken antics since they eat more berries than other species such as warblers and flycatchers that primarily eat insects. And as they prepare to fly south for winter, they may overindulge in an attempt to store up fat for the journey, Dodder said. The birds go from bush to bush trying to find more berries, their balance getting progressively worse.” Sounds like bar crawling, doesn’t it?

Gilbert isn’t the only town in America with a drunken bird problem. There are actually drunk tanks for inebriated avians in several places around the United States and in Canada. In some cases, the birds actually die from alcohol poisoning. The problem mostly affects smaller birds, and does not affect birds that feed on insects. This is a good thing, because a drunken robin is just amusing,  A drunken owl or hawk could be downright dangerous, to say nothing of a drunken turkey.

What can we do about it? Aside from picking up drunk or damaged birds and delivering them to the local humane society, there really nothing you can do about this but, if you need a little pick-me-up, just follow the nearest drunken bird back to the bush or tree where the bird has been imbibing the forbidden fruit. Just don’t drive home.

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