Yellow-billed magpies are communal roosters and fireworks can cause injury as many birds take flight simultaneously. Photo Carmel de Bertaut

While the negative effects of the noise of fireworks on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and domestic dogs have been well documented, the effects on wildlife have not been. But there is evidence that fireworks can have a negative effect on many animals living in the wild.

According to Natural Lands, most animals have far more acute hearing than humans. With explosions as loud as 190 decibels (humans can suffer hearing damage at only 75 decibels), the sound of fireworks can elicit anxiety, confusion and panic in animals.

Natural Lands is a nonprofit organization that “saves open space, cares for nature, and connects people to the outdoors” in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

Animal shelters, including wildlife rehabilitation facilities, see an influx in animals following fireworks. Many mammals will run in fear, increasing the number of wildlife deaths from automobile traffic on roads and highways. This can leave young animals vulnerable to starvation and predation.

Natural Lands also says that birds, in particular, suffer greatly every year. According to studies conducted by the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nesting birds have been known to abandon their nests in confusion.

It’s website says, “These same birds have also been known to fly into buildings or out to sea, too far to return safely. Those who do return to their nests have been observed to suffer from weight loss, sluggishness, and disrupted sleep patterns in the weeks following a fireworks display.”

Even after the fireworks are over impact wildlife can continue. Smoke from explosions can damage birds’ respiratory systems. Debris can impact waterways and other natural areas, Natural Lands says on its website. 

Animal Ethics, a charity organization, says the sound of firecrackers can cause birds to experience tachycardia (rapid heart rate) and even death by fright. “Disorientation and panic from fireworks can cause birds to crash into buildings or fly towards the sea. The colonial species of birds who nest in high densities, such as silver gulls, are at greater risk of this during explosions of firecrackers. Many birds who flee from their nests due to the sounds do not know how to return to their nests once the noise ends, which leaves many of their young helpless,” the website says.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “The shock of fireworks can cause wildlife to flee, ending up in unexpected areas or roadways, flying into buildings and other obstacles, and even abandoning nests, leaving young vulnerable to predators. The threat to wildlife doesn’t stop at startling lights and sounds; fireworks also have the potential of starting wildfires, directly affecting wildlife and destroying essential habitat. Litter from firecrackers, bottle rockets and other explosives can be choking hazards for wildlife and may be toxic if ingested.”

Fish and Wildlife says a well-known instance was when about 5,000 birds including red-winged black birds, European starlings, common grackles and brown-headed cowbirds flew into cars, trees and buildings, suffering blunt-force trauma during a Fourth of July fireworks show in Arkansas in 2011.

According to fireworks use charcoal and sulfur for fuel. Sulfur is both harmful to the environment and health. Fireworks release sulfur dioxide, which is linked to respiratory damage. 

Metal salts used to color fireworks include strontium carbonate, calcium chloride, barium chloride, and copper chloride. Chloride can be toxic to aquatic life, with even low concentrations impacting freshwater ecosystems. Perchlorate oxidizers release oxygen to help the combustion reaction within fireworks, and when it falls back to the ground it can contaminate water.

Particulate matter from fireworks can get into the lungs and bloodstream of both humans and other animals, potentially causing serious health problems. 

Natural Lands offers the following suggestions to lower the impact of fireworks on wildlife:

  • Minimize the noise: try to choose quieter options to avoid disrupting wildlife too much. For example, laser shows are far less disruptive to the environment than fireworks.
  • Choose fireworks with minimal waste: pick fireworks you can swiftly and easily dispose of after the display.
  • Drive slowly: animals are going to be running scared. Be prepared to brake suddenly.

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Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College and she reports on science and the environment....