Bird watch: Intoxicated cedar waxwings slam into CHS

It’s been a bad year for intoxicated cedar waxwings crashing into CHS windows.

Photo Walker Catlett It’s been a bad year for intoxicated cedar waxwings crashing into CHS windows. Photo Walker Catlett

You can tell it’s spring when the birds return—and start crashing into the windows at Charlottesville High while drunk on Japanese pagoda tree berries.

Avid birder Walker Catlett, 17, a junior at CHS, saw cedar waxwings flying into windows, and so far has documented at least eight dead and others stunned from soaring into the glass.

Pagoda berry casualties. Photo Jacob Floyd

“I think they could have died because they were intoxicated by the pagoda berries,” he says. The berries ferment, and the birds “can get alcohol poisoning.”

He believes once they’re loaded on berries in the school’s courtyard, the birds bang into the reflective windows.

As he did at the new Brooks Family YMCA last fall when he found injured and dead birds outside its large windows, Catlett alerted the school’s administration.

Says CHS Principal Eric Irizarry,“It’s a great example of a student applying his knowledge and interest to solve a real-world problem.”

The school notified its facilities and maintenance staff, trimmed the berries on the courtyard bushes and applied poster paper to the windows as a temporary fix. And city facilities staffers have volunteered to remove nandina bushes (a flowering plant also called “heavenly bamboo”) around the school before next year’s berry season, says Irizarry.

The administration met with Catlett April 27 to brainstorm interim ideas to get through the migration season, which has resulted in more strikes than the school has seen before. “I believe the school is planning on putting tempera paint on the windows,” he says.

But now, a new problem: A northern cardinal fell victim to the allure of bright shiny surfaces at the Y May 1 and a northern waterthrush collided into CHS May 4.

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