Darwin's parrots are not boozed up, just sick

Red collar lorikeets in the northern Australian city of Darwin have long displayed unusual behaviour over a couple of weeks at the end of the dry season and the beginning of the wet.

Darwin's parrots are not drunk but suffering from a virus.

Darwin's parrots are not drunk but suffering from a virus. Image by Gary Tindale / CC BY 2.0

Some five years ago, the number of parrots affected increased dramatically, with thousands displaying symptoms. "They exhibit odd behaviour like falling over or difficulty flying. They keep running into things," Dr Stephen Cutter from Darwin's The Ark Animal Hospital told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time.

From June through to August locals and tourists would notice the affected parrots falling out of trees and stumbling along Darwin’s Mitchell St, seemingly losing their fear of people and acting more friendly than usual.

This, of course, led to the conclusion that they must be drunk. Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission officers believed lorikeets’ behaviour was most likely caused by gorging on fermented fruit resulting in what one officer called a ‘full-on bender’, the ABC reported.

Darwin's parrots are suffering from a seasonal virus say experts.

Darwin's parrots are suffering from a seasonal virus say experts. Image by ghatamos / CC BY 2.0

However, it seems the maligned parrots were not drunk after all, but sick. Wildcare spokeswoman Barbara Backers told the NT News they now believe the most likely explanation for the birds’ behaviour is a seasonal virus.  “The actual condition is sometimes referred to as Drop Lorri Syndrome. But they do actually look drunk,” she said. Dr Cutter agreed, “Every time they are tested they come back with different things, but we do know it is not alcohol. We still don’t know the exact cause — it may be several different diseases working together, definitely some kind of virus that seems to attack the immune system.”

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