A new report in the Journal of Ornithology reports that cedar waxwings are flying drunkenly to their deaths at an alarming rate due to their habit of gorging on berries.
Here's more on this drunken mayhem:
Cedar waxwings have evolved to live on a diet that averages 84 per cent fruit. But those evolutionary innovations backfired on several occasions between 2005 and 2007 when flocks of them died after crashing into windows and fences in broad daylight in the Los Angeles area.
Now Kinde and colleagues report that the downfall of the flocks came from eating too many berries. Lacking a crop – the expandable pouch near the throat used to store food – waxwings stow meals in a distensible oesophagus. "When the fruit stays in the oesophagus, it ferments and produces ethanol," says Kinde.
The waxwings had ingested so many berries that their large livers "could not keep up with the alcohol produced by the fermentation", with ethanol concentration as high as 1000 parts per million. By the time they finished stuffing themselves with berries, they were too drunk to fly safely.
It appears that no species is safe from the effects of alcohol abuse. Time to develop some little birdie breathalizers to make sure they're flying straight!
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