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!