It’s well known that fireworks-heavy holidays like New Year’s Eve can be jarring to people and pets. In people with post-traumatic stress disorder, fireworks can cause mental health issues, while they can trigger anxiety in people without PTSD, as well. In pets, the sounds can cause fear and sometimes even lead to them getting lost. What about wildlife? A new study looked into this question, and it shows how fireworks may also be harmful for other species.
Research recently published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment investigated how fireworks disturb birds. Using weather radar data and bird counts, the team gauged how fireworks displays impacted bird flight, finding that there was an increase in flight more than five miles away. The researchers say the findings suggest that rules on where fireworks can be lit may help limit disturbances to birds.
The authors write, “Not only a concern for public health and safety, fireworks also pose a formidable form of disturbance to wildlife. While a single disturbance event may not be directly lethal to wildlife, the sudden synchronized detonation of fireworks in the Netherlands on NYE causes a flight response in birds of unprecedented scale, with immediate and lasting energetic consequences. Because this particular disturbance activity is widespread and extends into protected areas, action should be taken to reduce the impacts of fireworks on birds and other wildlife.”
The team examined how fireworks were linked with bird flight across a variety of habitats, including urban, agricultural, semi-open, forests, wetlands, and waterbodies. They used data from two weather surveillance radar installations in the Netherlands, along with wintering bird counts from citizen scientists.
The research found that, on average, there were roughly 1000 times more birds in flight on New Year’s Eve than there were on any other night. This number was also linked to distance from fireworks displays, with the biggest disturbances occurring within three miles. However, there was a 10-fold increase in flight up to six miles away.
This trend was more often observed in large-bodied birds than in their smaller relatives. The researchers say this indicates that efforts to regulate firework locations should be more focused on where these bigger birds live.
The authors write, “Conservation strategies should prioritize reduction of exposure to the most disturbance-prone large-bodied birds in open habitats, either by increasing the distance to fireworks through the creation of fireworks-free buffer zones or by centralizing fireworks strictly within urban centers. Ultimately, however, a drastic reduction in the use of fireworks may be the only feasible option for substantially mitigating the impacts of this disturbance on birds.”
You can read more of the findings here.