Boozy birds in the Canadian Yukon can end up in the drunk tank

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Marco Werman: Szechuan peppercorns and beer? Well, that certainly got us thinking here at The World about the weirdest beer you’ve ever had. What was it, and where did you drink it? Let us know at PRI.ORG. Drink responsibly, by the way. No one likes dealing with someone who’s staggering around after having a few too many, bumping into things, maybe even bumping into you. But at least you can tell the offender to go get a cup of coffee. You can’t tell that to birds, though. I’m talking about drunk birds, of course, because that’s the offending party that’s bothering them up in the Canadian city of Whitehorse. Meghan Larivee is with the animal health unit there. Meghan, how are the birds getting drunk in the first place?


Meghan Larivee: Well, what happens around this time of year is that some of the berries will begin to ferment, and this happens after the first hard frost -- our first one was in September. It’s possible that this berries will then have some alcohol content. So, while we haven’t actually confirmed that any of the birds we’ve had in have been intoxicated, because we don’t really have a breathalyzer test or anything like that that we use on the birds.


Werman: That would be a pretty small mask.


Larivee: That’s right. It is a possibility that we consider when we’re treating birds that have flown into an object or acting a little bit strange. The reason that we might suspect the berries is because the birds come in with obvious tell-tale signs of red berries all over their face, and they often have their throats quite full of berries as well.


Werman: And the mess around the beaks suggests binge berry eaters, I guess?


Larivee: They are, they’re definitely binge berry eaters. They will go to a tree in big flocks and they’ll just gorge on these berries. So, that’s where there’s always the chance that they just take into too much.


Werman: Lest any of our listeners think that we’re talking no more giant V formations of Canadian geese because they’re drunk -- we’re talking a very specific bird. What is it?


Larivee: That’s right. So, the bird that we are speaking about primarily is the Bohemian waxwing. They’re a really beautiful little songbird. They’re about a little bit smaller than an American robin, and have these beautiful little yellow tips on the ends of their wings, on the end of their tail. The reason they’re called waxwings is because they have these specialized feathers that look like it’s been dipped in ceiling wax.


Werman: What do you do then when you get a call from someone who has found a drunk Bohemian waxwing? What is your drunk tank look like?


Larivee: We put them into these little tiny hamster cages that we’ve purchased, and give the birds some supportive care. We just make sure that they’re comfortable and quiet, and hopefully they get to be released.


Werman: How soon after being put in that cage do they get released? In other words, how quickly do they sober up?


Larivee: So far, the ones that we’ve had, they were fine after 2 to 3 hours, although we do check and do little test runs to make sure that they can coordinate themselves before we release them.


Werman: Kind of a sobriety test flight?


Larivee: Exactly.


Werman: You’ve got all the bases covered, that’s fantastic.


Larivee: Meghan Larivee with Environment Yukon’s animal health unit. She’s been caring for boozy birds. Meghan, thank you for telling us about this.


Werman: Bobby McFerrin and his take on "Black Bird", doing the bird, the wings, the whole thing, and staying sober, ending our show today.