The buzz

Booms in the night: Fireworks displays pose risks for wildlife

Fireworks lighting up the night sky over a lake.
(Photo via Shutterstock)

If you have a dog, or maybe even a cat, there's a good chance the Fourth of July is a stressful time around your home, but it's not just our pets that struggle with the loud booms and pops of fireworks. Wildlife can suffer as well.

The deer, squirrels, foxes, coyotes and birds high and low don't know it's Independence Day and that our patriotic celebrations almost always include rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air. To them, these loud booms are startling and can cause injuries and even death. 

In many cases, the unexpected sound of fireworks exploding overhead can send wildlife fleeing — and directly into danger. Mammals may run onto roadways or other dangerous areas, and birds may fly into buildings, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports. The sudden fright may also cause wildlife to abandon their dens and nests, leaving their young unattended or even abandoned. 

The debris can be harmful too. Leftover wrappers and the remnants of exploded firecrackers and fireworks are choking hazards, and the explosive powder inside can be toxic, the fish and wildlife service reports. 

Birds, in particular, can face significant risks from fireworks. The loud boom of an exploding firework can cause birds to leave their roosts, sometimes in large numbers, and because it's dark, they can't navigate as well, NPR reports. And a large number of birds all taking flight at once, in a chaotic situation in the dark, can have devastating consequences. 

On New Year's Eve in 2010, about 5,000 birds — brown-headed cowbirds, common grackles, European starlings and red-winged blackbirds — fell from the sky, with studies showing the birds died from blunt-force trauma. The reason? They flew into buildings, trees, cars and other objects when 10 to 12 professional-grade fireworks were set off nearby, National Geographic reports.  

Federal law requires that professional firework displays must be staged at least three-quarters of a mile from protected habitat areas, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports. The agency advises that individuals also consider their proximity to wildlife habitats when setting off fireworks. Make sure any fireworks you set off are far away from natural habitat areas and that you choose to attend fireworks displays that are conducted responsibly. Also make sure to dispose of all your waste — wrappers and debris — and to avoid dry areas when using fireworks and other novelties.

If concern for animals isn't enough to keep you from lighting off fireworks, remember that they are illegal in Illinois as well as in all national parks, national forests and national wildlife refuges. Even seemingly minor fireworks, like bottle rockets and Roman candles, are against the law, which prohibits the use of all "consumer fireworks." Only non-consumer fireworks, such as sparklers and smoke bombs, are permitted in Illinois. 

Need more convincing? Fireworks are dangerous, especially for those without professional pyrotechnic training. In 2022, 11 people were killed and 10,200 injured in incidents involving fireworks, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

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