With their diets being comprised of over 80% fruits and berries of nearly all shapes and sizes, it’s fair to say that Cedar Waxwings absolutely love their fruit. In fact, they have earned their name by acting as the primary consumers (and dispensers) of juniper and cedar berries. What may be less well known is that this same veracious appetite has, throughout time, created a sometimes comical but too often tragic byproduct…
The Drunken Waxwing.
The protective skins of overwintered fruits will often-times crack during a frost, exposing the natural sugars to the air, and to the naturally occurring airborne yeasts and bacteria. This phenomenon activates the fermentation process, turning the sugars within the fruits into carbon dioxide and alcohol. Some research has shown this alcohol level to be as high as 3.8%, approximately the same as a beer.
The sad truth is that the Cedar Waxwing is simply on the hunt for its favorite food source, not the disorienting drunk they often experience when gorging themselves (sometimes so much so that the fruits are seen “overflowing” from the birds’ mouths) on fermented fruits.
There have been numerous reports, ranging back to the 1800’s, of Cedar Waxwings tumbling to the ground from trees and from atop buildings, seriously injuring or killing the birds. Toxicology has shown that while these birds are indeed intoxicated, it is more often than not, the injuries sustained from these falls which are fatal to the birds.
What can be done to protect the Cedar Waxwing from itself? After all, this is a behavior that has evolved over time and is simply an example of nature being nature. Perhaps you have an idea or story about the Cedar Waxwing that you would like to share. We would love to hear them.