Fireworks displays are a big part of celebrations around the world. They light the sky with bright, mesmerising colours, fill our ears with their characteristic bangs and bring happiness to many people. But is the temporary joy worth the impact they have on animals, the environment and people with PTSD and other health problems? Many would say no.
Here we explore some of the studies that investigate the ways that fireworks harm animals.
What are fireworks?
Fireworks are explosive devices. Their cardboard container is filled with chemicals that, when lit, react together to make the lights and sound that we know.
What’s the problem with fireworks displays?
There are many issues with fireworks, and we’re learning more every day. Some of the main ones are:
- They are known to terrify unexpecting animals that do not like loud noises. It’s not unusual for animals to suffer injuries or even death because of fireworks displays. Other animals show stress responses, change their behaviour, or flee from important habitats.
- They can be overwhelming for some people, especially those who suffer from conditions such as PTSD or those who are sensitive to bright lights and loud noise.
- They are dangerous. Many people suffer firework-related injuries every year. Burns are extremely common, as are injuries to hands, heads, and eyes.
- They are bad for the environment. Firing chemicals into the sky has a negative impact on air quality, and they release pollutants that accumulate in the air, soil and rivers and seas.
The ways that fireworks harm animals can be hard to study as displays take place at night, but scientists are always finding new ways of researching. Here we look at a few of the studies that have been done.
Birds take flight during fireworks displays.
In 2011, a study by Shamoun-Baranes et al.  found that birds take off in huge numbers during New Year’s Eve fireworks in the Netherlands. The study used operational weather radar to monitor bird movement before, during and after midnight on December 31st 2007/January 1st 2008. The study area included several habitats vital to wintering water birds, including freshwater lakes, grasslands, and floodplains. Prior to midnight, there was very little bird movement, but once the clock struck 12 and the fireworks started, thousands of birds took flight, with some fleeing from heavily populated areas.
A more recent study on wild greylag geese in Austria during New Year’s Eve fireworks found that their heart rate increased by 96% during fireworks, from an average of 63 beats per minute to 124 beats per minute . Body temperature also rose from 38°C to 39°C. The geese took flight during the fireworks and stayed circling their roosting area before eventually coming into land again. This is a huge disturbance to their usual rest time and an unnecessary use of energy during a time when food levels are low.
Sea lions stop vocalising during fireworks displays.
In 2016, Pedreros et al.  studied the impact of New Year’s Eve fireworks on a colony of South American sea lions in Chile. The breeding season for the colony runs from December to February, with the first births seen at the start of January. That means the time around New Year’s Eve is an important time for sea lions in the study area and that they are particularly sensitive to disturbances. The study showed that sea lions stopped vocalising when the fireworks started. There was also a significant difference in sea lion numbers, showing that many individuals left the colony during the firework display. The abundance was back to normal by the 2nd of January.
Companion animals are fearful of fireworks.
A survey of dog and cat owners in New Zealand aimed to look at how companion animals respond to fireworks . Researchers analysed 1,007 responses to their questionnaire, which represented 3,527 animals in total. According to the responses, during fireworks displays, 46% of companion animals showed a level of fear that was noticeable to their owners, with dogs more likely to show fear than cats. Fear reactions included shivering or trembling, running away, cowering, vocalising, urinating or being destructive.
A more recent study on animals and fireworks analysed 4,293 responses from owners, with a total of 15,871 companion animals. This time, 11,750 animals (74.4%) displayed fear responses to fireworks, and 345 animals suffered physical injuries .
Final thoughts on fireworks and animals
It is clear that fireworks harm animals. Many countries are introducing bans or strict regulations on the buying and selling of fireworks to reduce the impacts, and silent fireworks are starting to become more common, but there is more to be done.
 J. Shamoun-Baranes, A. M. Dokter, H. van Gasteren, E. E. van Loon, H. Leijnse and W. Bouten, “Birds flee en mass from New Year’s Eve fireworks,” Behavioral Ecology, p. 1173–1177, 2011.
 C. A. F. Wascher, W. Arnold and K. Kotrschal, “Effects of severe anthropogenic disturbance on the heart rate and body temperature in free-living greylag geese (Anser anser),” Conservation Physiology, vol. 10, no. 1, 2022.
 E. Pedreros, . M. Sepúlveda, J. Gutierrez, P. Carrasco and R. A. Quiñones, “Observations of the effect of a New Year’s fireworks display on the behavior of the South American sea lion (Otaria flavescens) in a colony of central-south Chile,” Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiolog, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 127-131, 2016.
 A. R. Dale, J. K. Walker, M. J. Farnworth, S. V. Morrissey and N. K. Waran, “A survey of owners’ perceptions of fear of fireworks in a sample of dogs and cats in New Zealand,” New Zealand Veterinary Journal, vol. 58, no. 6, pp. 286-291, 2010.
 M. C. Gates, S. Zito, J. K. Walker and A. R. Dale, “Owner perceptions and management of the adverse behavioural effects of fireworks on companion animals: an update,” New Zealand Veterinary Journal, vol. 67, no.6, pp. 323-328, 2019.