Fireworks frighten millions of birds, shows study

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Imagine the excitement of New Year’s Eve, the sky bursting with fireworks, but have you ever thought about how it affects our feathered friends?

A new study reveals a startling truth: millions of birds lose a lot of energy because of these celebrations, especially on New Year’s Eve.

Bart Hoekstra, an ecologist from the University of Amsterdam, shares some eye-opening findings.

On New Year’s Eve, when fireworks light up the sky, the number of birds flying around increases dramatically.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, shows that there can be up to 1,000 times more birds in the air near fireworks than on a regular night.

This number can even spike to between 10,000 and 100,000 times in some places!

The impact of fireworks on birds is not just limited to the immediate area. Birds up to 10 kilometers away from the fireworks are disturbed and take flight.

This is a big deal because flying uses a lot of energy, and in cold winter months, birds need to conserve as much energy as they can.

Hoekstra explains that when fireworks go off, birds have an instant reaction to fly away because of the sudden loud noises and bright lights. In the Netherlands, which is home to many wintering birds, this means millions of birds are affected.

To study this, the researchers used weather radars and bird counts.

Last year, they found out that geese are so startled by fireworks that they have to spend 10% more time looking for food for at least 11 days after New Year’s Eve. They need this extra time to make up for the energy they lost from flying away in panic.

The study looked closely at which bird species are most affected and how far from the fireworks they react. Hoekstra used data from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and bird count information from hundreds of volunteers with Sovon, the Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology.

Their analysis showed that nearly 400,000 birds in areas around Den Helder and Herwijnen alone take off as soon as the fireworks begin. Larger birds, like geese, ducks, and gulls, are particularly affected.

They fly really high, sometimes for hours, and this can be dangerous. They might end up in bad weather or get so disoriented that they have accidents.

The study also reveals that 62% of all birds in the Netherlands live within 2.5 kilometers of populated areas, so fireworks have a big impact on them.

Birds in open areas like grasslands, where many large birds stay during winter, are especially disturbed. However, birds living near forests or in semi-open habitats, like smaller birds such as tits and finches, are less likely to be bothered.

Hoekstra and his team suggest creating fireworks-free zones, especially in areas where large birds live.

These zones could be smaller near forests, where light and sound don’t travel as far. They also recommend having fireworks in central locations, away from birds. The best solution for birds, they say, would be to switch to light shows without loud noises, like drone shows or quieter fireworks.

This study is a call to rethink how we celebrate, keeping in mind our environment and the creatures we share it with. It’s about finding a balance between enjoying our traditions and protecting our natural world.