BIRD WATCH: A fine, feathered intervention?

BEING INEBRIATED ISN’T a condition known only to humans.

Several days ago, I returned home to find my yard pulsing with creatures acting as if they had been over imbibing.

As I turned into the driveway, I saw birds flying in all directions throughout the yard.

As the car door opened, the din made by the revelers was almost overwhelming. Robins were everywhere.

My first thought was that one of the fall flocks had descended on the yard intent on stripping the mountain ash tree of its berries. There were no birds in that tree.

Other trees, with or without berries, seemed to be the object of their wild flying.

They landed in the madrone, the dogwoods and the crabapple.

Both the madrone and the dogwood have already had their berries consumed. The crabapple won’t be ready for another month.

The only trees in the yard covered with berries were the hawthorns and the mountain ash.

I couldn’t understand why those trees were being ignored.

While I puzzled over this, the robins continued to fly back and forth, from one part of the yard to another all the while scolding one another with loud calls.

A major gathering area was the bird bath. There were robins drinking from it, bathing in it and sitting on nearby trees and bushes waiting a turn.

Everyone appeared to have a great thirst.

Very noticeable was the plumage of these birds.

They all looked faded. It seemed as if they had gone from summer plumage straight into the middle of winter.

This faded look was even more puzzling than their behavior. I suspected they were drunk but why were they so dull-looking? The thought occurred to me that a flock of northern migrants farther advanced into winter plumage had stopped to check out the yard’s berry supply.

Robins aren’t the only birds that get drunk on over ripened fruit, but they are the most noticeable because it takes place when they are in their fall and winter flocks.

It is the number of these inebriated birds all squawking and flying haphazardly that gives you pause. Sometimes, they even pass out. This has caused people (more than once) to think the birds have been poisoned. Well?

These party-goers were only around for a day or two.

The yard returned to normal but a news spot on the internet caught my eye.

It was a short video about robins in Gilbert, Minn.

They were acting exactly like the birds that visited my neighborhood.

A reason given for their behavior was blamed on an early freeze in that region.

This brought the berry sugar content up and the birds couldn’t resist the sweet, fermented fruit.

It’s also why the robins staggering about my yard had ignored the mountain ash and hawthorn.

Perhaps their disappointment accounted for their drunken quarreling.

They must have been indulging on berries farther north and my fruit just didn’t taste right.

Taking into account the advanced winter plumage look, I am beginning to suspect the partying visitors were from northern climes and have been partying their way south for a while.

Now they are faced with the reality of sobering up. Either that or they may hang around, waiting for an early frost to keep the party going.

It’s a strange feeling to see that all the berries on the mountain ash remain even as a very active robin flock descended on the yard. I can’t remember this ever happening before.

It’s going to be interesting to see what takes place in the coming weeks.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email:

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