Jul 03 2013

What Do Birds Think Of Fireworks?

Published by at 7:00 am under Bird Behavior,Books & Events

Fourth of July fireworks (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Every year around the Fourth of July people use our neighborhood park to try out illegal fireworks.  (In Pennsylvania everything except sparklers, "novelties," and toycaps are illegal without a permit.)

Last Sunday we jumped out of our skins when someone exploded a minute's worth of "M-80" salutes across the street.  After our hearts stopped racing and our cat emerged from under the bed I wondered...

What do birds think of fireworks?

I can guess based on our own reactions, but here are some scientific studies.

In the Netherlands where fireworks are popular on New Years' Eve, the University of Amsterdam uses weather radar to track birds' reactions when civilians celebrate at midnight.  On the radar here you can see thousands of birds fleeing en masse for 45 minutes.   The birds most affected are ducks and geese overwintering at quiet wetlands.  I suspect they are doubly susceptible because they aren't habituated to human noise and they flee the sound of gunfire because they are hunted.

On the U.S. Pacific Coast a few towns have changed their fireworks venues to protect nesting seabird colonies.  When fireworks are too close the adults flee the cliffs exposing their young to cold or predation, or the young jump off the cliffs before they can fly.

At Depoe Bay, Oregon the fireworks display used to be held a mile north of town in a state park on a high cliff overlooking the ocean.  The site is part of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and has a large nesting colony of Brandt's cormorants.  After July 4, 2011 and years of fireworks-induced nest failure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began talking with municipal leaders about moving the venue.  USFW did a study showing significant nest failure and provided an alternate seaside location only a seven minute drive from town.  Most towns understand and accommodate.  Depoe Bay became famous for canceling and complaining.

So what do birds do about fireworks?   It depends.  Some flee.  Some hunker down.  Others are tolerant if the noise isn't too close.  In any case the disturbance is temporary.

It's pretty much our pets' reaction too.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “What Do Birds Think Of Fireworks?”

  1. Mary Ann Pikeon 03 Jul 2013 at 10:23 am

    I once boarded my horses at a barn where the owner of the property had his own private fireworks display every year. He didn’t own/ride horses, and I’m not sure why he leased the property out as a boarding stable, but at least half of the horse were frightened out of their minds by the fireworks. Most of the owners would come and stay with their horses in the barn during the festivities (the boarders weren’t invited to the party) to make sure the horses didn’t hurt themselves, and some people would actually give their horses a mild tranquilizer so that they didn’t react as violently.

    It’s really tough to have fireworks anywhere without scaring at least our house pets. I suppose if they are not too close to where the shells are being set off it’s not much worse than a bad thunderstorm. Our one cat doesn’t even like thunderstorms, and we can’t quiet those…

  2. George Bercikon 03 Jul 2013 at 11:29 am

    Maybe we don’t know all the facts about fireworks effects on birds, but we can
    reasonably be certain that ” it ain’t good”.

  3. Allyon 03 Jul 2013 at 12:07 pm

    Orion, Beauty’s baby in NY last year, freaked out during the fireworks. He hid behind Beauty the whole time, I felt so bad for him. Beauty kept shooting the fireworks dirty looks, I don’t think she liked them either. I wonder how our fledglings Downtown will react to the fireworks tomorrow.

  4. Janet Campagnaon 03 Jul 2013 at 5:53 pm

    What about thunder and lightning? My previous cat would hide under the bed. My current one couldn’t care less.

  5. Charlotteon 05 Jul 2013 at 7:31 am


    I wondered the same last night when we saw at least three sites around us set off fireworks on a half-mile wide bay mid-coast Maine. The explosions not only sounded once, but echoed across the bay. The prominent songbirds along the bay are singing this morning, but it would be helpful to do an inventory today, even by just listening for the common songs and calls.

    Charlotte, mid-coast Maine

  6. Dainaon 04 Jul 2017 at 12:24 pm

    After last nights fireworks (July 3) explosions the birds I usually feed at my feeders are missing in action. Honestly the town I live in is awful about M-80s, cannons and the like for the entire summer. Today is July 4th and with all the noise that will cut loose tonight I am hopeful birds and animals will survive. Take cover!

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