An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

The Perils of Fermented Fruit

robin eating rotting apple 782In New England, fruit-eating birds are particularly vulnerable in the winter, because they depend so heavily on a food source that ferments, and to get enough protein they need to eat a lot of it. Toxic levels of ethanol can be produced as the natural sugars ferment, causing some consumers to become inebriated. Robins, waxwings and starlings have been found dead in large flocks after eating toxic berries and diving into the ground or colliding with solid structures. In addition, when they are really drunk, they lose mobility, making them helpless in the presence of predators. To the surprise of many observers, birds that appear lifeless on the ground have been known to eventually sober up and fly away. While birds don’t intentionally wish to ingest a lot of alcohol, there are other animals, such as elephants and apes, that will wander for miles to seek the pleasure of fermented fruits.

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17 responses

  1. Did you take that picture? WOW!!!!!!! It’s amazing.

    February 25, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    • Yes, I did, Kay…it was pretty funny watching the robin lose its balance as it stretched to reach forbidden fruit!

      February 25, 2014 at 12:40 pm

  2. Love this perfect photo! I, too, have noticed wobbly robins after ingesting apples from our trees, similar to the ones in the photo. I suppose the risk of inebriation outweighs the risk of starvation. Great post!

    February 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm

  3. Wonderful birds, lovely markings, fantastic shot !

    February 25, 2014 at 12:51 pm

  4. Interesting post and a stunning photo!

    February 25, 2014 at 1:10 pm

  5. Bill On The Hill...

    I have an apple tree just below the house that has been loaded with over ripe fruit all winter.
    I keep a tall stick handy & every couple of weeks I give the branches a good whack!
    It seems to keep the ground dwelling creatures happy on those long cold nights.
    Just the other night in fact, I heard a thump & some ruckus outside the house & low & behold I observed a herd of deer staggering about & singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall… Bill Farr :~)

    February 25, 2014 at 2:01 pm

  6. Stunning photograph and very interesting post!

    February 25, 2014 at 2:06 pm

  7. OMG — What an amazing shot and the colors, amazing!!

    February 25, 2014 at 2:43 pm

  8. Bill’s comment made me laugh out loud! Seriously, Mary, your picture is a gem. That’s an absolute winner in any photo contest where birds are the focus!

    February 25, 2014 at 4:45 pm

  9. Thank you all for your very generous comments. I’m glad when others see the same beauty in what I see.

    February 25, 2014 at 5:35 pm

  10. As mentioned by others, this picture is simply amazing. The stretch of the wings combined with the colors make it stunning. I’m also tickled by the inebriation factor by robins (my name is Robin). What a hoot! Thank you, Mary. Love your blog.

    February 25, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    • Thank you so much, People Sense Consulting!

      February 25, 2014 at 8:47 pm

  11. So beautiful.

    February 26, 2014 at 12:07 am

  12. Amazing pic showing all the colorization you want to see! I have seen Robins drunk on Pagoda Dogwood ( Cornus alternifolia) berries! The berries were left on a tree on one of the properties I manage and late summer a few Robins found the tree. The client I had a good laugh that afternoon! The robins were wobbling on the branches, she thought they were having seizures and called me to the back where they were. Once she found out why we had the best of times watching them fall off, stagger back up for more. They sobered up later in the day and the bar was closed. All the berries were gone!

    February 26, 2014 at 11:54 am

  13. David Wold

    Haven’t these drunken birds ever heard of the designated driver? It saves a lot of lives.

    February 26, 2014 at 3:49 pm

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