Are Fireworks Dangerous to Birds?

Photograph by Howard Ignatius / CC BY NC 2.0

Are Fireworks Dangerous to Birds?

The boom, crackle, and flash of fireworks on the 4th of July may not be as delightful to wildlife as they are to us.

Geoffrey Giller
Published: 07/02/2013

America loves fireworks. No major celebration, be it the Superbowl, a new year, or the Kentucky Derby, is complete without the colorful displays. But they’re most closely associated with the 4th of July, as Americans commemorate our independence by creating large, vibrant explosions in the sky.

Yet the sound and sight of fireworks may not be as delightful to wildlife as they are to us. In an oft-cited incident, about 5,000 red-winged blackbirds died on New Year’s Eve 2010 when professional-grade fireworks were illegally set off in Arkansas. The birds, startled from their roosts and disoriented in the darkness, collided with buildings, cars, and trees.

Independence Day fireworks are generally less problematic for birds, however. Kevin McGowan, of the famed Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, told Audubon last year that unlike in winter months, when some birds roost together in large groups, birds are more spread out in the summer. “You’re going to scare a few robins here and there, but that’s not going to affect a large number of birds,” he said.

There are exceptions. In 2008 a California commission did find that the annual 4th of July fireworks display was causing seabirds to abandon their nests. And fireworks may still scare individual birds. In a Seattle suburb this year, the fireworks display will be less loud and in a slightly different location to reduce the likelihood of disturbing a nearby bald eagle nest. Members of Eastside Audubon met with the organizers of the fireworks display to request the changes, the Seattle Times reports. Mary Brisson, a spokesperson for Eastside Audubon, told the Times that the effort was “an example of how things go when they go right.”

If you’re concerned about protecting birds, the best thing to do is leave it to the professionals. Not only does that reduce the risk to birds, but it’s less dangerous for humans, too. In 2012, about 8,700 people were treated at hospitals for firework-related injuries, most around July 4.

Instead of fireworks, why not check out our guide to attracting a different kind of colorful, awe-inspiring display to the skies around your house: hummingbirds!

Author Profile

Geoffrey Giller

Geoffrey Giller is an intern at Audubon magazine and a master's student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. You can follow him on Twitter @geoffsjg or see some of his work at

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine


Firework shows should be done

Firework shows should be done far away from trees where the birds are, and the average consumer should not be allowed to do rocket-type fireworks in their neighborhoods among the trees....have compassion, and wake up the next morning to happy little songs, not a desolated neighborhood, for that is what happened here...I grieved for a day and still want to fight the rocket type for the average consumer. The other types are just as fun, and we can see the big shows too, but not near trees or neighborhoods!!!

I think and believe fireworks

I think and believe fireworks should be banned except at large stadiums away from residential areas. My dog has been suffering since early in the week from all the blasts she's been exposed to. Its awful to see your pet in such stress with nowhere to hide!!!!

Hi, I agree with you on

Hi, I agree with you on fireworks....totally! Last night we had a major firework display just a block from our home, and today there are no songbirds in our area that are singing. I do not know what has happened to them, but I prayed for them last night and hope they fled from the area and are O.K. somewhere else. If they did flee, they may not come back, or if they got scared and flew into something, they will definitely not come back, or if they even got hurt physically, they have already died or will suffer and die. Let's start spreading the can we do it? Our neighborhood feels very desolate today and I feel depressed and am grieving over it. My friends, the songbirds, cheer me up immensely every day of my life, and I love their little sweet songs and spirits to make me very happy when I need a lift....they are like the voice of the Lord through their little loving spirits, to me. I know that I will worry about them, the pets and the other animals out there in the future here (and everywhere), now that we have a major fireworks display every year here, and all of the others out there, and with all of the other neighborhood fireworks now allowed here too the same time!! Maybe that is the problem. How can we spread the word so others will listen? How can we make them listen to us? Come to my Facebook page and send me a private message, and maybe we can come up with something to help others see and identify with us...especially government who can really make a difference....fat chance, well, we can try. It is the people who will save our nation, and we need to let them know how we feel, our government leaders, both locally and nationally. Maybe there is hope, and maybe the suffering of the innocent is not in vain. The innocent creatures are not the only ones who suffer for this....we do too. Let's hope, pray and do what we can for all concerned. Thanks so much. Katherine Meals (Remember, come to my page on Facebook and send me a private message, the Utah State Senate and Senate Majority are following me on Twitter, and I write to, and get letters and emails back from my leaders in national government....both state leaders and President Obama too, so do not hesitate to contact me and let me know your thoughts and how we can get the word out.) One more thought, one person can change anything, many people can change everything.

Hi, Just a reply to my own

Hi, Just a reply to my own reply above. I thought this message was being sent to the commenter only. Please, I do not want others to send me messages on my page from the above reply....that was definitely not my intent, and I have asked The Audubon Society people to remove it for that reason. I love the birds, though, and want to protect them at all costs, for they are precious to me.

Yes, in some coastal

Yes, in some coastal communities they shoot fireworks once per week. I noticed visiting there that there was a scarcity of shorebirds. Glad the author mentioned the emergency room visits. Other factors: people suffering from burns, Veterans having flash backs to the wars, people with asthma who suffer, sulphur emitted into the air hence increased air pollution, and the money it costs. Some families really can't afford it but they buy them anyway. Money gone up in smoke. Fireworks vendors could sell something more beneficial. Thanks for this article.

All animals are adversely

All animals are adversely effected by fire works. The deer now have fawns, and so many dogs are lost forever .Birds are nesting or have fledglings . It would be so nice to GO and see fireworks, instead of staying home , watching the horses, and dogs , that are sometimes givin a seditive by a vet, because it is so traumatic .

I'm surprised Mr McGowan is

I'm surprised Mr McGowan is not aware of the damage caused to Black Skimmer nesting colonies over the 4th of July holiday along the beaches in Florida. It's so sad.

I do recall one 4th of July

I do recall one 4th of July in particular, when a female mallard who'd nested on our pond chose that particular day to show us her clutch of ducklings... I even took pics of them, they were so cute! But the following day after my husband and son had been playing with fireworks in the backyard, the family of ducks was GONE! ....and I never let the boys forget what a devastation this playing with fireworks was on an apparently scattered little family we never saw again since....

Great article, but I would

Great article, but I would have loved to learn more about the impact of fireworks on birds! Any serious studies going on about that?

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