Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Birds and Fireworks

Last year, thousands of blackbirds died on New Year's Eve in Beebe, Arkansas. This year it happened again, though in smaller numbers.
"Well, there was just birds falling down on the street and people dodging and missing them," Taylor said. "And we were down the street picking them up. We got called out by the chief and we all [came] out trying to pick them off the street."

Taylor added that the Game and Fish Department took about 30 of the nearly 100 birds for testing to try to determine what happened.

Fireworks were blamed for the deaths of thousands of blackbirds last year, but it's unclear whether fireworks were the cause this time. Police imposed an impromptu ban on fireworks when the birds began falling this year.

Lt. Brian Duke of the Beebe Police Department told ABC this year wasn't nearly as bad as last year, when the birds covered the streets of Beebe. This year, they were concentrated in a smaller area and the birds were cleaned up quickly. There haven't been any reports of people being hit by a falling bird.

Biologists said last year's kill was caused by birds who were spooked off their roosts by the loud explosions and began flying into homes, cars, telephone poles and each other.
Apparently the problem of birds being startled by fireworks is not limited to Arkansas.
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.
This is such a consistent problem that perhaps the presence of large bird flocks should be a consideration in the timing and location of fireworks displays.