The Disturbing Impact of Fireworks on Avian Life: Insights from New Research

by Mateo Gonzalez
Firework Impact on Birds

A recent investigation by Bart Hoekstra from the University of Amsterdam has highlighted the adverse effects of fireworks on bird populations. This research, involving the use of weather radars and bird count data, indicates a significant increase in bird flight activities during New Year’s Eve, impacting birds within a radius of up to 6 miles.

The study suggests that the use of fireworks leads to an increased flight activity among birds, observable up to 6 miles away. To mitigate these effects, the researchers advocate for the creation of zones free from fireworks and the adoption of quieter, light-based celebrations to safeguard avian populations.

New Year’s Eve fireworks have a notable impact on birds, even up to a distance of 10 km (6 miles). An international team of researchers, using data from weather radars and bird counts, demonstrated the immediate flight response of birds following the commencement of fireworks. This response was observed at varying distances and across different bird groups. “The response of many waterfowl was already known, but we now observe similar effects on other bird species across the Netherlands,” states Bart Hoekstra from the University of Amsterdam. The researchers, in their publication in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, propose large zones where fireworks are prohibited.

On the eve of the New Year, the number of birds in flight near fireworks locations is, on average, 1000 times higher than on other nights, with peaks reaching between 10,000 to 100,000 times the usual number. The most significant effects are within the first 5 km of the fireworks, but noticeable increases in bird flight activity are still seen up to 10 km away.

“Birds exhibit an immediate flight response triggered by the abrupt noise and lights. In a country like the Netherlands, which hosts numerous wintering birds, millions of birds are affected by fireworks,” explains Hoekstra.

Weather Radar and Bird Count Analysis

Previous studies at IBED revealed that geese are so impacted by fireworks that their food searching time extends by an average of 10% for at least 11 days post-New Year’s Eve. This extra time is presumably needed to regain energy or adapt to new foraging areas they find themselves in after fleeing the fireworks.

Hoekstra’s research focused on identifying which bird species are prompted to fly by fireworks and when this occurs. He utilized data from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute’s weather radars on both a clear New Year’s Eve and typical nights, combined with Sovon’s bird count data from hundreds of volunteers.

“We knew about the strong reaction of many water birds, but the reaction of birds outside these habitats was unclear. The counts helped pinpoint the location of different bird species, and radar images showed their flight initiation due to fireworks,” Hoekstra elucidates.

Using this data, Hoekstra calculated the number of birds taking flight immediately after fireworks begin, the distance from the fireworks where this occurs, and the bird species groups most affected.

Panic in the Air

The study revealed that in the areas monitored by radars in Den Helder and Herwijnen, nearly 400,000 birds take flight as soon as the fireworks start on New Year’s Eve. Notably, larger birds in open areas tend to fly for hours at significant altitudes.

“Larger birds like geese, ducks, and gulls ascend to several hundred meters due to fireworks and can remain airborne for up to an hour. There is a risk they might encounter bad weather, or, in their panic, not know where they are flying, leading to accidents,” says Hoekstra.

‘Limiting Fireworks in Central Areas’

Considering that 62% of all birds in the Netherlands reside within 2.5 km of inhabited areas, the impact of fireworks is substantial nationwide. “Flight requires substantial energy, so minimal disturbance during the cold winter months is crucial. This is particularly important in open areas like grasslands, where many larger birds winter. The impact of fireworks is less in forested and semi-open habitats, where smaller birds like tits and finches, less prone to fly away from disturbances, reside.”

The authors suggest creating fireworks-free zones in areas inhabited by large birds. “These buffer zones could be smaller near forests, where light and sound travel less. Ideally, fireworks should be confined to central locations in urban areas, as far from birds as possible. Moving towards soundless light shows, like drone displays or quieter fireworks, would be most beneficial for birds,” recommends Hoekstra.

Reference: “Fireworks disturbance across bird communities” by Bart Hoekstra, Willem Bouten, Adriaan Dokter, Hans van Gasteren, Chris van Turnhout, Bart Kranstauber, Emiel van Loon, Hidde Leijnse, and Judy Shamoun-Baranes, 7 December 2023, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
DOI: 10.1002/fee.2694

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Firework Impact on Birds

How do fireworks affect bird populations?

Fireworks lead to a significant increase in bird flight activity, particularly on New Year’s Eve. Research by Bart Hoekstra from the University of Amsterdam shows that birds can be affected up to a distance of 6 miles from the fireworks. This sudden flight response, induced by the noise and light of fireworks, impacts various bird species, including waterfowl and larger birds in open areas.

What are the findings of Bart Hoekstra’s research on birds and fireworks?

Bart Hoekstra’s research revealed that on New Year’s Eve, there is an average increase of 1000 times the normal number of birds in flight near fireworks sites, with peaks reaching 10,000 to 100,000 times. The study, which utilized weather radar and bird count data, found that larger birds tend to fly at significant altitudes for hours after the fireworks, potentially leading to accidents or disorientation.

What measures are suggested to mitigate the impact of fireworks on birds?

The researchers, including Bart Hoekstra, suggest the establishment of fireworks-free zones, especially in areas where large birds reside. They also recommend moving towards quieter light shows, like drone displays or less noisy fireworks, to minimize disturbance to birds. The aim is to reduce the energy expenditure and stress caused to birds during the cold winter months.

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Alice M December 29, 2023 - 2:52 am

I always thought birds would just sleep through the fireworks, this research is really an eye-opener…poor birds.

EmmaT December 29, 2023 - 4:29 am

Reading this makes me think twice about lighting fireworks this New Year’s. Maybe light shows are the future. We gotta think about nature too.

Johnathan K December 29, 2023 - 5:20 am

interesting read, but how do they even count all those birds? must be really hard to keep track of them all during the fireworks.

Sandra Lee December 29, 2023 - 3:10 pm

Wow, never knew fireworks could impact birds that much. It’s crazy to think how they fly off in panic, kind of sad actually.

Mike87 December 29, 2023 - 7:16 pm

Are we sure this is all true? I mean, birds have been around longer than fireworks, right? They must’ve adapted somehow.


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