Intoxicated Wildlife

Blog Category
Discover Nature Notes
Revised Date
Dec 27, 2021
Published Display Date
Dec 27, 2021

Like some holiday celebrations, birds and other wildlife can find their surroundings overripe for intoxication.


You're most likely to see cedar waxwings in this condition. This usually occurs in spring, when warming days cause last year's berries to ferment. Following lunch at a favorite berry bush, members of a cedar waxwing flock sometimes tumble from perches, bump into each other, and fly into things. This usually lasts a few minutes, and then, if they survive their dangerous antics, they fly away.

Robins, pigeons and even insects are occasionally observed in what looks like an inebriated state. Bees find it impossible to fly after sipping overripe nectar. Wasps can become tipsy when feeding on rotten fruit. Falling to the ground, they buzz around on their backs for a few seconds while their rapid metabolism cleanses the alcohol from their systems.

Drunken wildlife is probably more common than we realize. There is no evidence, however, that they enjoy this condition and don't seem to do it deliberately. This impairment is a lesser known challenge in the wild.

Tipsy on Fermented Fruit

Are your backyard birds acting strange? Barbara Damrosch of The Washington Post provides some insight to the world of intoxicated wildlife and how fermented fruit is the culprit.

Fruit can become alcoholic in a number of ways. Sometimes in the fall, fruit matures too much and ferments. In the winter, cold concentrates a fruit’s sugar, which then breaks down and produces alcohol.
Although animal intoxication is often a naturally occurring event, it can put the imbiber at risk. Impaired birds sometimes fly into walls and windows, and they are vulnerable to predators, including house cats.
If you find drunk birds in your yard that seem to need help, set out water to drink to rehydrate them.


Audio file
Discover Nature Notes Radio: Intoxicated Wildlife
MDC, Learfield
Right to Use


Cedar Waxwing Feeding

  • Cedar waxwings are most likely to ingest over-fermented berries. In fact, the majority of a cedar waxwing’s annual diet is berries and small fruits. 
  • The cedar waxwing also eats some flowers and will drink oozing sap. It eats many insects in summer, including beetles, caterpillars, ants. Young nestlings are fed mostly insects at first, then more berries after a few days.
  • Except when nesting, it almost always forages in flocks. 
  • The Cedar Waxwing may hover briefly while plucking berries or taking insects from foliage, and it often flies out to catch insects in mid-air.

For more on the cedar waxwing, visit the Audubon Field Guide.

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