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Robins stop at Florida Treasure Coast for berries and a buzz

FORT PIERCE — Robins migrating north for the spring are stopping off along Florida's Treasure Coast for some cocktails.

"This time of year, expect to see some robins looking a little woozy," said Ken Gioeli, a natural resources agent for the Cooperative Extension Service in Fort Pierce.

The reason: fermented berries on Brazilian pepper bushes.

The robins' trip north coincides with the berries ripening; and Gioeli said overripe berries on the plants "can be somewhat fermented."

That may be especially the case this year because of the particularly cold weather.

"In the same way that cold temperatures helps sweeten citrus," Gioeli said, "it's possible that the cold puts more sugar in the (Brazilian pepper) berries."

As any chemist or beer brewer will tell you, fermentation of sugar — or starch — containing plant material will make beverages with low alcohol content.

But what's good for robins isn't good for people, for whom Brazilian peppers are toxic. "So nobody should try making Brazilian pepper wine," Gioeli said.

Gioeli said the robins are slowly, and perhaps erratically, making their way north. Most are out of Martin County, and their numbers are starting to dwindle in St. Lucie and Indian River counties.

Richard Baker of Sebastian, president of the Pelican Island Audubon Society, said this has been a banner year for robins, but neither he nor his wife, Juanita Baker, said they've seen any drunk birds.

Richard Baker said a fellow birder jokingly suggested the Audubon Society offer rehab for drunken robins or at least "pray for their misguided souls."

The robins, like many others on boozy binges, don't think about the consequences of their actions.

"When the birds fly off in a wobbly manner, they light on power lines or fence posts and their droppings contain the (Brazilian pepper) seeds," Gioeli said. "That's why you tend to see Brazilian peppers growing under power lines and along fence rows, and Brazilian pepper is one of the most invasive plants we have in South Florida."

Robins stop at Florida Treasure Coast for berries and a buzz 02/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 27, 2010 8:00pm]
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