On January 1st of this year, we awoke to reports of thousands of birds dead in Arkansas. The cause was not immediately known, and some people started to freak out, even saying that the event was a sign of the coming apocalypse.
Of course, within days scientists had an answer–the birds were likely startled by fireworks and, unable to see in the night, they ran into houses and signs and other objects and died from the trauma.
It turns out that birds are easily startled by fireworks. A study in the November/December issue of Behavioral Ecology used weather radar to track birds disturbed by New Year’s Eve fireworks for three years in the Netherlands. They found that thousands of birds took to the skies shortly after midnight and didn’t settle down again until 45 minutes later.
The scientists estimated that hundreds of thousands of birds, including several species of migratory waterfowl, were disturbed by the fireworks each year in the Netherlands alone. “The unexpected loud noises and bright lights fireworks produce are probably a source of disturbance for many species of domestic and wild animals,” the scientists wrote.
Most of the time, birds won’t die from the fireworks displays, as they did in Arkansas, the researchers note. But they still suffer from disrupted sleep, interrupted feeding and the energetic costs of flight and resettlement.
So, if you wake up on Sunday morning to more reports of dead birds, don’t think it’s Armageddon, but have a thought for the effects of our pretty displays on the wildlife around us.