Fireworks can have devastating effects on wildlife

Research suggests that birds are more affected than other animals.

While the negative effects of the sound of fireworks on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and domestic dogs are well documented, the effects on wildlife are not. But there is some evidence that fireworks can have a negative effect on many wildlife.

According to Natural Lands, most animals have much sharper hearing than humans. With explosions as loud as 190 decibels (humans can sustain hearing damage at as little as 75 decibels), the sound of fireworks can trigger fear, confusion and panic in animals.

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

Animal shelters, including wildlife shelters, are seeing an influx of animals after fireworks. Many mammals will run in fear, increasing wildlife from car traffic on roads and highways. This can make young animals vulnerable to starvation and predation.

Natural Lands also says that birds in particular suffer a lot every year. According to studies conducted by the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, breeding birds are known to leave their nests in confusion.

The website states: “The same birds have also been known to fly into buildings or the sea, too far to return safely. Those who return to their nests in the weeks following a fireworks display have been observed to experience weight loss, sluggishness and disrupted sleep patterns.

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

animal ethics, a charitable organization, says the sound of fireworks can cause birds to experience tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) and even death by fright. “Disorientation and panic from fireworks can cause birds to bump into buildings or fly towards the sea. Colonial bird species that nest in high densities, such as herring gulls, are at greater risk from fireworks explosions. Many birds fleeing their nests because of the noises don’t know how to return to their nests once the noise stops, leaving many of their young helpless,” the website says.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service“The shock of fireworks can cause wildlife to flee, run into unexpected areas or roads, crash into buildings and other obstacles, and even leave nests, leaving youngsters vulnerable to predators. The threat to wildlife doesn’t stop there at startling lights and sounds; fireworks also have the potential from starting wildfires, which directly affect wildlife and destroy vital habitats. Litter from fireworksbottle rockets and other explosives can pose a choking hazard to wildlife and can be poisonous if ingested.”

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

According to fireworks use charcoal and sulfur as fuel. Sulfur is harmful to the environment as well as to 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 affecting freshwater ecosystems. Perchlorate oxidizers release oxygen to aid the combustion reaction in fireworks, and when dropped to the ground can contaminate water.

Fine dust 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 for reducing the impact of fireworks on wildlife:

  • Minimize the noise: Try to choose quieter options to avoid disturbing nature too much. Laser shows, for example, are much less disruptive to the environment than fireworks.
  • Choose fireworks with as little waste as possible: choose fireworks that you can quickly and easily throw away after the show.
  • Drive slowly: animals will get scared. Be prepared to brake suddenly.

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