Watch out for birds

This week the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and the Rapid City Police Department are hosting the annual Regional Training Seminar of the International Conference of Police Chaplains. About 40 law enforcement chaplains from five states have gathered for a few days of training and building networks of support. High quality continuing education events for pastors often require travel for local pastors, so this is a good opportunity for those who have interest in law enforcement and chaplaincy to take classes and earn continuing education units.The International Conference of Police Chaplains is the most widely accepted accrediting agency for law enforcement chaplains. I hold a basic certification from the association. Because I was on sabbatical during the summer when most of the planning was done, I didn’t participate in the meetings, but did volunteer before leaving on sabbatical to host the coffee breaks. So it has been a busy week for me, running back and forth between the church and the public safety building.

One thing that pastors and chaplains do when we get together is to update each other on local news. Much of the news that gets shared in this gathering has to do with law enforcement, crime, and related stories. Our regional gathering has a contingent of chaplains from the Duluth, Minnesota Area. I know some of the chaplains from previous gatherings and have visited with them during breaks around the edges of the seminar. In doing so, I caught news of a law enforcement story that some of my regular readers may have missed.

About a hour north of Duluth on the Iron Range, there is a small town called Gilbert. The police in that town have been responding to calls about rambunctious birds flying into windows and doors and being uncommonly aggressive. It turns out that the birds are flying under the influence and that it is not an isolated incident. There are lots and lots of intoxicated birds in town flying into cars and windows and acting confused.

An early frost, well before the birds normally head south for the winter, caused berries, mostly chokecherries to ferment. The birds eat the berries and become intoxicated and confused. The Gilbert police chief, Ty Techer said, “We’ve sort of nicknamed it ‘berry benders’ now that these birds are on a berry bender. The young birds livers can’t process it as well. They seem loopier, for lack of a better term.

Chokecherries and even larger fruit, such as crabapples can produce significant quantities of alcohol when their natural sugars begin to ferment and become alcohol as they lose moisture.

There have been several jokes going around about the phenomenon. Park Ranger Sharon Stiteler wrote, “Drunk birds are totally a thing. I’ve had to give sober rides to cedar wax wings from uptown.” She made a sober box as a place for bombed birds to sleep off their stupor. “Much like your drunk friend who sleeps on the couch, the birds will throw up and then feel better. Give them some carbs and some water and they’ll take the flight of shame home.”

Law enforcement officials admit that there are no laws against birds flying while intoxicated. They do note that smaller birds, like cedar waxwings, are more vulnerable to predators when they are under the influence.

I can say from first hand experience that robins are mean drunks. When I was growing up, we had lots of chokecherry bushes at our place. The robins would flock to the bushes and eat the ripe berries. When we got an early freeze, the robins would get drunk. I’ve seen a robin face off with a magpie that was three times its size and the magpie ended up flying away. Don’t mess with a drunk robin. They also get aggressive toward other animals. I once watched a cat who thought that a drunk robin would be easy prey. The robin chased the cat up a tree.

The Gilbert, Minnesota, police department Facebook page has a post that asks people not to call the police every time they notice intoxicated birds. However, they note they would like people to call the Gilbert Police Department if they see any of the following:

  • Heckle and Jeckle walking around being boisterous or playing practical jokes.
  • Woodstock pushing Snoopy off the doghouse for no apparent reason.
  • The Roadrunner jumping in and out of traffic on Main Street.
  • Bigbird operating a motor vehicle in an unsafe manner.
  • Angry Birds laughing and giggling uncontrollably and appearing to be happy.
  • Tweety acting as if 10 feet tall and getting into confrontations with cats.
  • Any other birds after midnight with Taco Bell items.

It’s a good thing that the police have maintained a sense of humor about the incident.

What I do know, from observing the birds, that when the phenomenon occurs, which isn’t every year, it goes away quickly. Usually after a few days, or at most a week, the birds have consumed all of the fermented fruit and return to their normal patterns. Since they are fattening up for the annual flight southward, they continue to eat voraciously and their short benders don’t seem to have a lasting effect on their behavior.

Of course, like humans, there are a few who make fatal mistakes when intoxicated. Behaviors while drunk can have permanent effects. Some of the birds that fly into cars or windows are killed in the encounter. Some are taken by predators when unable to fly away as quickly as usual. Fortunately, the overly aggressive behavior of the birds rarely results in injury or harm to other creatures, something that cannot be said about humans who over consume alcohol.

Today is the final day of the training seminar. I’m sure that there will be plenty of talk about the tragic events in Florence, South Carolina where one police officer was killed and six others were wounded after an attempt to serve a warrant. As is our custom, we will pray for the individuals involved and their families. Law enforcement chaplains tend to be realistic and serious about our calling.

But there will probably be a few jokes about drunk birds as well. Sometimes, in the midst of serious business, a little humor helps to release the tension.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!