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Fireworks cause stress to wild birds - new study

Published: 3 November 2022 at 09:54

Greylag geese - picture by Dr Claudia Wascher

Heart rate of geese increases by 96%, while body temperature rises as well

New research has discovered that firework displays can cause significant stress to wild birds.

Published in the journal Conservation Physiology, the research was led by Dr Claudia Wascher of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and is one of the first studies ever carried out into the effects of fireworks on wildlife.

The study involved 20 wild greylag geese (Anser anser) fitted with temporary transmitters to record their heart rate and body temperature, which are measures of physiological stress.

The research was carried out at Almsee, a lake in Upper Austria. Villages close to the lake hold New Year’s Eve celebrations, with midnight firework displays marking the new year.

The study discovered that the average heart rate of the geese increased by 96% (from 63 to 124 beats per minute) and their average body temperature increased by 3% (from 38°C to 39°C), in the first hour of 1 January (midnight to 1am).

Between 1am-2am, after the fireworks had ended, their average heart rate was still 31% above normal while the average body temperature remained 3% higher than normal. It took approximately five hours for the geese to display normal body temperatures, with average readings only returning by 5am on 1 January.

The wild geese in the study were part of a resident population at Almsee and the researchers found no evidence that age influenced their physiological response, indicating that geese do not become desensitised to fireworks over time.

Lead author Dr Claudia Wascher, Associate Professor in the School of Life Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:

“Ours is one of the first scientific studies to examine whether fireworks disturb wildlife. There have been previous studies showing that fireworks can cause anxiety in pets, for example in dogs, but little research has been done into how animals in the wild respond.  

“In Austria, New Year’s Eve fireworks begin at midnight and last for several minutes. We believe the increase in physiological stress recorded over a number of hours is a combination of increased physical activity caused by the geese taking flight while the fireworks are being set off, and psychological stress. This causes the birds to expend additional energy at a time of year when food is scarce.

“We need to carry out further research to conclusively tell whether the geese are responding to the noise or the light pollution from the fireworks, or a combination of both.  Many people get a lot of enjoyment from fireworks but it’s important that we consider animals – both pets and wildlife – whenever planning a display. It’s clear from our study that we should certainly avoid using fireworks in areas with large wildlife populations.”


An article written by Dr Wascher about this new study, and other research into how fireworks can impact animals, has been published by The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/fireworks-growing-evidence-they-distress-animals-builds-case-to-restrict-use-191472.

Animal and environmental science courses at ARU

Claudia teaches on our undergraduate Animal Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation and Zoology degrees, as well as the MSc Animal Behaviour Applications for Conservation. Find out more about these courses at an Open Day.