Strange Planet: Drunken Australian Parrots

A slew of Australian parrots are truly going “down under” in the tropical climate. Red-collared lorikeets (aka rainbow lorikeets) have been found stumbling around, falling off their perches and showing signs similar to human drunkenness.Lisa Hansen, a veterinary surgeon at the Ark Animal hospital told the London Times, “They act quite like a drunken person would. They stumble around and are very uncoordinated.”

This is not a new phenomenon, however. Aussies have come to expect the seemingly inebriated parrots each year at the end of Darwin’s wet season, which typically lasts between November and May. In an article about Australia’s monsoons from the November 2004 issue of National Geographic, writer Roff Smith noticed the quirky bird’s drunken habits:

The only drunks we saw were rainbow lorikeets, a noisy flock of them, stoned on the overripe and fermenting fruit scattered beneath the huge mango tree that shaded the homestead at Vanrook Station. They chattered incessantly and chased their reflections into windows. Humans, it seems, aren’t the only creatures around here susceptible to a touch of mango madness.

Hansen also told the Times that the birds appear to suffer from headaches, disorientation, and general lethargy (sounds awfully like hangover symptoms) after they have been treated. And what is their treatment you ask?

Getting fed sweetened porridge and fresh fruit–the bird equivalent of greasy food the morning after.

But as with humans, the intoxication of these birds is not really a laughing matter. Some take months to recover while others have died from the mysterious illness. This year there have been over 200 birds treated and still no one quite knows what causes their symptoms. Some of the theories include a fermented nectar from a plant in their diet or an unknown virus.

Dubbed by some as the “drop lorry” or “drunken lorikeet disease,” this yearly phenomenon doesn’t seem to be easing up anytime soon. 

–Christina Conrad

Photo: MyShot User Doug Loescher. See more photos of rainbow lorikeets on National Geographic’s My Shot.