Do Fireworks Kill or Hurt Birds?

Updated: Jun. 20, 2023

Firecrackers and sparklers are a long-standing summer tradition, but nature lovers might wonder: can fireworks kill or hurt birds? Here's what to know before you put on a show.

Firework Display Above Park, Fourth of July, People WatchingJonathan Mauer/Getty Images
A Fourth of July fireworks display

Ah, summer. The sun shines, grills sizzle, campfires pop, and everywhere you look you’ll find bursts of color—especially in the sky. For many, summertime fireworks comprise a long-standing tradition. They’re as inseparable from the Fourth of July as a juicy burger and the good ol’ red, white, and blue. But if you’re a birder, you might hesitate. Do fireworks kill birds? Here’s what you should know so you can keep your backyard feathered friends safe.

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Do Fireworks Kill Birds?

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In 2010, a fireworks display in Arkansas led to the deaths of thousands of birds, including red-winged blackbirds.

Birds & Blooms bird experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman answered this question. “Just like many household pets, wild birds can be frightened by fireworks,” they said. “And sometimes they are, in effect, scared to death. In one case on New Year’s Eve 2010, about 5,000 red-winged blackbirds, grackles and others died when fireworks were set off next to the site where these birds were roosting overnight.

Panicked by the noise, the birds flew up in confusion, and many crashed into buildings or wires. Such mass mortality is rare, and happens mainly where large numbers of birds are roosting or nesting close together. But any loud nighttime explosions will cause some disturbance to birds and other wildlife.”

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Take Extra Precautions Around Nests

Bnbbyc18 Gary LutinsCourtesy Gary Lutins
Avoid setting off fireworks near active nesting colonies

Dr. Kevin McGowan, senior course developer and instructor for The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bird Academy, agreed that fireworks can disturb birds—and in fact, McGowan provided analysis for National Geographic about the 2010 incident that Kenn and Kimberly mentioned. “In areas where there are nesting colonies of birds, there can be an effect when you have a lot of birds gathered in one spot,” Kevin says. “If they have eggs or chicks or something they might abandon if they get scared and fly off—that sort of thing.”

He also mentions that the smoke from fireworks isn’t good for birds (or people), but adds that in small doses, it should be tolerable. In addition, don’t set off fireworks near active bald eagle nesting sites; Kevin mentions there are federal laws protecting those nests.

For those concerned about having a potential effect on birds, Kevin recommends having a good awareness of one’s surroundings. He notes that fireworks don’t always fly straight up into the sky and straight back down. When they go somewhere, “You’ll want to be careful of where that ‘somewhere’ is,” he says.

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A Nuisance, Not a Danger

In the end, Kevin emphasizes that fireworks most often serve as a nuisance to birds, not a danger. “Unless you have a situation where there you have a bunch of sensitive birds in one place, then it seems unlikely that it’s going to be much of a disturbance,” he says. Kevin also emphasizes that to some extent, human disruption of nature is inevitable. “As humans, we disturb the world. That’s what we’re allowed to do… it’s part of being in the world.”

Editor’s note: Always make sure you check local and state laws regarding purchasing, possessing and setting off fireworks. To minimize risks, consider attending a community display rather than setting off fireworks in your neighborhood.

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