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Behav Ecol. 2011 Nov;22(6):1173-1177. Epub 2011 Jul 11.

Birds flee en mass from New Year's Eve fireworks.

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1
Computational Geo-Ecology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, PO Box 94248, 1090 GE Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Abstract

Anthropogenic disturbances of wildlife, such as noise, human presence, hunting activity, and motor vehicles, are becoming an increasing concern in conservation biology. Fireworks are an important part of celebrations worldwide, and although humans often find fireworks spectacular, fireworks are probably perceived quite differently by wild animals. Behavioral responses to fireworks are difficult to study at night, and little is known about the negative effects fireworks may have on wildlife. Every year, thousands of tons of fireworks are lit by civilians on New Year's Eve in the Netherlands. Using an operational weather radar, we quantified the reaction of birds to fireworks in 3 consecutive years. Thousands of birds took flight shortly after midnight, with high aerial movements lasting at least 45 min and peak densities measured at 500 m altitude. The highest densities were observed over grasslands and wetlands, including nature conservation sites, where thousands of waterfowl rest and feed. The Netherlands is the most important winter staging area for several species of waterfowl in Europe. We estimate that hundreds of thousands of birds in the Netherlands take flight due to fireworks. The spatial and temporal extent of disturbance is substantial, and potential consequences are discussed. Weather radar provides a unique opportunity to study the reaction of birds to fireworks, which has otherwise remained elusive.

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