Fatal high

What happened before the click...Photographers tell their story behind a special picture. This time: an alcohol trip with fatal consequences

Waxwings died after glass collision
© Alwin Hardenbol

In winter, the northern Bohemian waxwing mainly feeds on berries, preferably rowan berries. These magnificent birds can consume twice their own bodyweight. After a cycle of frosts and thaws, the berries begin to ferment producing ethanol. The waxwing’s favourite food regularly gets it drunk in the truest sense of the word. Usually, these songbirds cope well with this – thanks to their liver, which compared to their body, is enormous – the largest in the kingdom of birds. This helps the birds to convert fructose into energy. However, just like people, some individuals overdo their consumption of fermented grapes. This can prove fatal for the birds. The alcohol affects the behaviour and flightworthiness of the befuddled waxwings.

In the winter before last, I received the sad news that a dozen Bohemian waxwings had been mortally wounded in collision with my employer’s window. Some of them still had berries in their beaks. I grabbed my camera and made a record of this sad case, mainly to make people more aware of the danger to these birds. For as amusing as the story of drunken birds may sound, it can quickly turn into something deadly serious. We are responsible for making our windows safe for birds to help the number of collisions go down in future.

Alwin Hardenbol with a parrot on his shoulder

Alwin Hardenbol with an Australian king parrot (Alisterus scapularis) on his shoulder.

© Alwin Hardenbol, privat

Alwin Hardenbol is a wildlife photographer in the Netherlands. He mainly photographs birds. For the past nine years, Alwin has lived in Finland, where he frequently gets his camera sights on one of his favourite subjects: the beautiful Bohemian waxwing. This 31-year-old photographer has already entered many photography competitions including our EuroNatur competition, Europe’s Treasures of Nature. In 2019 he took first place with his Spotted Nutcrackers in the Snow. In addition to his photography, Alwin works as an ecologist and often has the opportunity for birdwatching then too. You can see some of his pictures at www.alwinsnature.com.

P.S. Bohemian waxwings are only rarely seen in central Europe, but when they are they are mostly in large flocks. These birds, found from Scandinavia to Russia, Alaska and Canada are considered to be invasive birds; it is only in severe winter weather that they leave their northern homelands to travel south. The origin of their name is also interesting: waxwing describes the stripe or droplet shaped ends of some secondary flight feathers that look as though they have red wax dropped on them. And in olden times, the Bohemians were thought to be a people prone to prowling around in brightly coloured costumes.


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