Around this time every year, red-collared lorikeets fall from the heavens on to Australia's Northern Territory. What's causing these loopy birds to fly under the influence? Experts suspect the birds are consuming a toxic mystery plant.
Says Lisa Hansen of the Ark Animal Hospital at Palmerston, Australia:
It happens every year around this season, they lose all balance and we find them fallen out of trees and the sky [...] Unless someone intervenes, they can't fly and will get picked up by predators [...] It seems that the birds get intoxicated by something they have eaten and it renders them unable to fly and function... they can get very sick as a result [...] We are fairly certain it's a plant, but we don't know which plant. People talk about seeing drunken birds under umbrella trees when they are flowering.
Ecologist Chris Tzaros of Birds Australia notes that the musk lorikeets of southeastern Australia also experience intoxication when they consume eucalypt nectar:
Those birds become drunk on eucalypt nectar. They feed in some blossom, and then fall out of the blossom, disoriented to the ground [...] These birds evolved to feed on eucalypt nectar all day long, everyday. It might be a particular time of the year when the nectar ferments or a particular tree which affects the birds.
In any case, if Aussie readers see red-collared lorikeets swerving through the sky, contact your friendly neighborhood ornithologist.