Out On The Mudline

Be Wary Of Drunk Cedar Waxwings

By W. P. Sissell

Bird watching

Early last week an article in the Commercial Appeal really caught my attention for it was about a bird (really a flock of birds) that Nannette and I keep track of yearly.  As I left the den to come to the computer I noticed, framed in the north window, our Holly tree with its thousands of bright red berries not quite ready for harvesting by the flock of Cedar Waxwings that will soon arrive. The earliest arrival we have recorded is April 7.

The article, by Tom Charlier, entitled “Drunks, In Fowl Mood, Get Reckless,” tells about a flock of Cedar Waxwings exhibiting a lot of odd behavior, thrashing about and flying into walls.  These birds are described in the following words by a Mr. Forebush in a leaflet prepared for the National Association of Audubon  Societies. “What other bird is dressed in a robe of such delicate and silky texture?” Those shades of blending beauty that melt from one color into another are not found in any other family of birds. In addition, if birds have no conception of manners, how does it happen that half  a dozen Cedar Waxwings, sitting together on a limb—which they often do—will pass whatever fruit they are gathering (Holly, Cherry, Dogwood)  along from one to another, down to the end of the line and back again?

Oddly enough although these very beautiful birds have all the equipment needed for singing they do not sing. They are only able to utter a few high hissing notes.

The behavior of the flock in Memphis was probably caused by alcohol created by the recent freezing and bursting of Holly berries that allowed wild yeast to react with sugars causing fermentation. The birds were flying while intoxicated! On our farm, out on the Mud Line we learned of another instance of a drunken animal other than a human.

Pow Wow

You might think all that talk about drunk birds is a lot of malarkey but think back to my story about our registered Guernsey bull, Powell. Powell came from Gayso Farms which was located in the approximate area where the giant shopping center of Southaven is today. He, being registered, had expensive tastes (I guess). When Powell came along we were pretty heavily involved in the dairy business—where you work seven days per week come rain, sleet, snow or sunshine.  In addition we (that’s our family) were feeding out many hogs. The farrowing house fronted on the lot where Powell was pastured and the young pigs along with their mammas were grazed and fed in that same pasture.  

At the cheese plant where the milk was sold we got whey (a waste product of cheese making) which was a good hog feed.  We probably got four fifty-five gallon drums per week. After that whey set in the sun for a day or more fermentation took place. Powell very shortly developed a taste for that fermented whey—in fact he became a sot drunkard. He could flip a hundred or so pound shote away from the trough with ease.  

    My brother and I could keep him away from the trough by dropping a line from the electric fence into the whey but this affected the pigs too.  Powell soon learned that if the pigs could drink he could drink—another problem.  It took a little work but we solved that too although we had to keep giving Powell a little whey every day.  We learned many years ago that animals too can be affected by alcohol.

Do have a great week. I liked the kind of snow we had—it came and went.

Thank you for the encouragements.

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