By Alisha Davidson
ML&SA Research and Development Coordinator
On New Year’s Day in 2011, the Smithsonian received reports of over 5,000 dead birds in Arkansas. After deliberating as to the possible causes, researchers realized that several large flocks of birds in the area were startled by the fireworks and, unable to see in the night, ran into houses and other objects and died from the trauma. While this mass mortality is a rare event, research shows that the loud sounds of fireworks do have an adverse effect on wild animals as well as domestic animals. The noise from fireworks causes a great amount of fear, stress and anxiety in wild animals. This fear often causes them to flee into roadways which results in more vehicle damage (from large animals such as deer) and an increase in dead animals.
Other documented effects include nesting birds and other small mammal parents abandoning their nests leaving their defenseless babies behind. The panic can sometimes cause so much disorientation that wildlife parents cannot locate their nests and their babies die. Waterfowl also become entangled in remnants of large fireworks, or ingest pieces, and scavenging animals (both birds and mammals) ingest debris, usually resulting in death.
As riparian areas support large numbers and diversity of wildlife, taking steps to reduce the negative impacts of fireworks is part of the responsibility that comes with lakefront living. First, it’s best to avoid personal fireworks at home and enjoy a local city celebration instead, as this reduces the number of large noise events around a lake. If you do choose to celebrate with your own fireworks, there are several steps that can reduce wildlife endangerment (courtesy of West Sound Wildlife Shelter):
1. Remove bird feeders and bird baths several hours before lighting fireworks. This will discourage birds from being in the area and ensure that no ash, debris or other firework residue inadvertently lands in birdseed or drinking water. If it is not possible to remove the feeders or baths, cover them prior to using the fireworks or thoroughly clean them afterwards.
2. Wait until well after dusk to ignite fireworks. Late evening and twilight is a prime feeding time for many animals, but after it gets much darker there will be far fewer animals nearby to be affected by the fireworks.
3. Do not use fireworks near trees, bird houses, nesting areas, rookeries, brush piles or other sheltered areas where wildlife may be living. Small animals may be invisible under dense cover, but the effects of fireworks used nearby can be drastic and may scare them into the open. Keeping the fireworks away from these areas also reduces the risk of fire from stray sparks or not-quite-extinguished fuses or debris.
4. Clean up all firework residue promptly and thoroughly, including trash, spent casings, bits of paper, used matches and ash. Firework debris can still contain toxic chemicals and other poisons that can harm animals that may ingest them.
Michigan Lake and Stream Associations (ML&SA) promotes conserving the riparian ecosystem while also enjoying the lakes and streams of Michigan. Next 4th of July, please consider whether fireworks are a necessary part of that enjoyment or whether the local city display or the simple display of fireflies and the moon’s reflection on the water, will do instead.