What Do Birds Think Of Fireworks?

Fourth of July fireworks (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Fireworks display in San Jose, CA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

3 July 2013 (written in 2013 when we lived in across the street from Magee Field, Pittsburgh)

Every year around the Fourth of July people use our neighborhood park to try out illegal fireworks. 

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 pets’ reactions, but here are some scientific studies.

In the Netherlands where fireworks are popular on New Years’ Eve, the University of Amsterdam used weather radar to track birds’ reactions when civilians celebrated at midnight.  In the radar video below you can see thousands of birds fleeing en masse for 45 minutes.   The birds in most affected were ducks and geese overwintering at quiet wetlands.

Click on the map below to start the video.

embedded video from University of Amsterdam: Millions of birds lose precious energy due to fireworks on New Year’s Eve

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.  Some are tolerant if the noise isn’t too close.  Fortunately the disturbance is temporary.

It’s a lot like our cat’s reaction.

UPDATE 2020: A 2017 Pennsylvania law permits all Class-C “consumer grade” aerial fireworks. M-80 salutes and similar explosives are still illegal under federal law.

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

8 thoughts on “What Do Birds Think Of Fireworks?

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

  5. Hello,

    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. 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!

  7. Comments on this blog are moderated. This comment has been edited for tone.
    News of the incident is here: https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/01/us/los-angeles-bomb-disposal-truck-explosion/index.html

    The city/town where I live, fireworks are illegal. But those that live in the area could care less. These clowns blow off half sticks of TNT and homemade bombs. Just a week before the 4th, someone got caught with 32,000 lbs of fireworks and homemade explosives, in which LAPD tried to detonate 10lbs of the homemade fireworks/explosives, which resulted in the bomb squad vehicle blew up like an aluminum can! Not to mention injuring 17, most of which were first responders. These guys blow off cannons/explosives three months before the 4th of July and a month or two after. They need to find a different way to amuse themselves.

    1. Omg I remember that it became a national news event. I cannot believe that 1. that happened 2. they thought that would be a good idea. The explosives being homemade made them extremely unsafe as they could have never known how powerful they would be.

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