Death of dozen ‘drunk’ blackbirds at school blamed on fermented berries

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YOUNG birds can get drunk on fermented berries and display symptoms such as unsteadiness on their feet and a tendency to fall over, according to a study published today.

The report warns that losing the ability to steer is “considerably more of a problem when life is normally spent in trees or in the air”.

The findings from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency come after it was called to a primary school in Cumbria last summer when the bodies of 12 young blackbirds were found.

A further blackbird was discovered alive, but obviously “unwell”.Foul play was suspected, especially as some of the birds had clearly been injured and the police were called.

Post-mortem examinations ruled out lethal infections, such as avian flu, but did show berries in all the birds’ guts which smelled like they were fermenting. Staff at the wildlife rescue centre where the live bird was sent also reported that it had been unsteady on its feet and appeared “drunk”.

The report said the bird had to place its wings on the ground to steady itself, and had leant against the walls of its enclosure to keep upright. After two days the bird fully recovered and was released back into the wild.

The authors suspect that all the dead birds had become intoxicated on fermented berries, and that some of the injuries they had sustained were the result of mid-air collisions.