Flying While Intoxicated? Fact or Fiction? Oh… It’s a Fact!

This is the first Robin we've seen in the Northwood Commons Backlot. We hope to see more!

It’s a question many of Florida’s wild bird watchers wonder about. We grew up hearing about robins, in particular, who consume so many locally native berries that they become drunk, disoriented, and flounder on the ground. But, is this true? Can Florida’s wild birds really eat so many berries they actually become drunk? According to a 2012 study from the British Medical Journal… they absolutely can! And Florida, ripe with berries and their usual indulgent characters, American Robins… is no stranger to these instances of drunken birds flailing about our Florida backyard habitats.

Some of us DO work, ya'know!

Some of us DO work, ya’know!

And, frankly… Scooter could do without the drunken brawls and all-hours-of-the-night frat parties next door! 

Brazilian Pepper berries

Brazilian Pepper Tree Berries

As comical as it may be to see them leaning against walls and tumbling to the ground, Wild Birds Unlimited in Clearwater/Safety Harbor cautions that this can be quite serious for Florida’s wild bird population. Instances of finding several dead birds lying on the ground can cause fears of Avian Flu to rise. In fact, most often, this is due to bird crashes during the season when the Brazilian Pepper tree and its berries are in full bloom and are beginning to ripen and then ferment. The birds ingest the berries and become intoxicated to the point where they cannot fly properly enough to avoid windows crashes. Along with being seriously injured, these birds can die during this disoriented state. Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop

But let’s look at what’s listed as the main culprit (there are many, but one seems to stand out) so we can –maybe– help out with the rehab. Admitting there’s a problem is the first step to recovery!

Someone call A&E! There’s gonna be an intervention!

According to what we can find, the main berry species which causes most of the concern down here in Florida is the Brazilian Pepper Tree – also commonly called the Florida Holly. Beautiful, with its bright red clustered berries and colorful, deep-green foliage, this plant is related to common poison plant species, ivy, oak and sumac, and was introduced in the mid-late 1800s for its aesthetic appeal. However, fast forward to 2013 and Florida has it listed on its own Invasive Plant Species list and strongly cautions against its cultivation and use. Birds become drunk on its berries as they ferment on the branch or after falling to the ground. In this recent article from Charlotte County Florida’s Channel 2 website, the issue of this beautiful, but problematic, plant is outlined.

Scooter says, “Uuuhhh…Woops! So much for that purty plant!”

The problem with this plant, beyond its obvious attempts at drugging Florida’s native wild bird life and running amok in its invasiveness of other native plants… is its ability to retain its life despite all efforts at ridding it from our shores. Removing these trees or large shrubs, which can reach heights of over 30 feet, is a difficult task requiring total and complete removal of the tree/shrub and all its roots as re-rooting can take place from pieces left in the ground. The Brazilian Pepper is, for all intents and purposes, a hearty, hearty tree! Because of this, Wild Birds Unlimited in Clearwater/Safety Harbor suggests we help birds to avoid their indulgences altogether… and these ways are pretty simple:

*Wear protective clothing as this tree is related to Poison Ivy and can cause severe itching and rashes! Dig the Brazilian Pepper Tree out from its root and trim any new spouts as they’re seen. If all else fails in removing the Brazilian Pepper Tree from your yard completely, try:

  • Trimming the berries at their stems as they sprout and throw them away where birds will not be tempted to eat them.
  • Affixing window decals to the outside of nearby windows to lessen the chances of bird crashes.
  • Placing chimes, or other noisy or visually “startling” yard decor, near the Brazilian Pepper Tree to ensure birds are frightened away from that particular area.
  • Do not place bird houses, feeders, baths or nesting materials near the Brazilian Pepper Tree.
  • Supply wild birds with quality wild bird seed and feed from Wild Birds Unlimited in Clearwater/Safety Harbor.

While we love our beautiful lawns and lush greenery here in Florida, we need to be mindful that not all of these beautiful plants are indigenous and that some, like the Brazilian Pepper Tree (Florida Holly), can cause hazards not foreseen upon their introductions. When creating or adjusting a backyard habitat for your wild bird visitors, it’s best to consult a local authority like the Florida Native Plant Society or Wilcox Nurseries; partners of your local Wild Birds Unlimited in Clearwater/Safety Harbor!

Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop


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Hammock Bird Banding

A dynamic update on the Migratory Bird Banding Project in Hammock Park, Dunedin, Florida.

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