Visitors to a park in Huntington Beach, California, had been noticing strange behavior among birds in the park, including walking strangely, falling over with their legs in the air, and barely opening their eyes.
Then someone found the pile of pills.
As CNN reported, someone dumped hundreds of prescription pills in the small park with a playground and a small pond for fishing. Wildlife experts believe that the birds mistook the pills for grains and ate them, leaving them with strange symptoms and behaviors. The pile contained a number of different medications, including some for insomnia along with antidepressant and heart medication.
Video shared by CBS Los Angeles showed some of the affected birds keeled over and others struggling to fly. The report noted that some neighbors found the intoxicated birds spread out through the neighborhood, leading some to worry that the birds were dying.
The birds that accidentally ate the pills were captured by wildlife staff, and some of them were sent to a vet for treatment. A Canada goose and a Ring-billed Gull were both given IV fluids and were able to recover, officials said.
The birds are not the only animals to be affected by improperly disposed prescription drugs. Last year, ecotoxicologist Charles Tyler researched the effects that flushed prescription drugs had on fish. Speaking to the Independent, Tyler said researchers found male fish that were turning female and laying eggs, which was the result of drugs with high levels of estrogen making their way into the waterways where the fish lived.
Tyler said he hoped the research would be a warning to people to properly dispose of their prescription pills.
“It’s blindingly obvious when you stick a poison out and it kills something. It’s an incredibly difficult challenge to understand sub-lethal effects and how these things affect behavior,” he told the Independent.
“If we get sufficient evidence indicating there’s a high likelihood of a population effect, perhaps we need to be more proactive about restricting … or banning these chemicals.”
Others have noted the same phenomenon. In 2013, a study published in the journal, Science, found that wild perch had high concentrations of the anti-anxiety medicine Oxazepam. As the New York Times reported, the drug caused the fish to be less social, more active, and also caused them to eat faster.
In California, investigators are trying to find the person who dumped the pills in the park. They urged neighbors to keep an eye out for strangely behaving animals and report any discarded medications.