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Background image, geese on the water in winter

Monitoring the reaction of birds to fireworks

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

The video below, part of a new study, shows weather radar measurements from two Dutch radars during New Year's Eve. In the area enclosed between red arcs, 384,000 birds immediately respond to the lighting of fireworks just after midnight. These birds fly up to 500 meters in altitude, much higher than normally.


Annual radar measurements

The animations show images of radar reflectivity within a 40 km radius from the radar. Reflectivity abruptly increases every year at midnight as birds take off in great numbers. Dark red represents a high radar reflectivity, which is correlated with a large density of flying birds. If it rains, birds can be invisible because the reflectivity is dominated by the rain.

Which birds respond to fireworks?

Just after the New Year countdown, enormous numbers of birds take to the sky. New research aimed to examine the differences between species groups in their response to fireworks. By combining bird counts, carried out by volunteers from Sovon, with radar images, we know that predominantly larger birds in open landscapes react strongly to fireworks. As a previous study demonstrated, this applies, among others, to waterbirds (see right column). Smaller birds in more closed landscapes, such as forests, seem to react less to fireworks — although we cannot measure a stress response where birds do not take flight with radar.

In addition, the research has shown that the disturbance caused by fireworks is incredibly widespread. On average, as a result of fireworks, 1000 times more birds take flight than on usual winter nights. Although the disturbance decreases as birds are further away from fireworks, the number of birds in the sky remains at least 10 times higher than normal up to 10 kilometers away from fireworks.

Want to know more about birds' response to fireworks?

More information can be found in the articles "Birds flee en mass from New Year's Eve fireworks" (2011) and "Fireworks disturbance across bird communities" (2023).

Overview of the area, bordered by Amsterdam, Harderwijk, Oss and Rotterdam

Monthly waterfowl counts

Hans van Gasteren, one of the researchers, conducts monthly waterfowl counts for Sovon in the lakes and surrounding grassland areas around Reeuwijk (blue area in the map on the left). This provides information on species and numbers of birds that are potentially disturbed by fireworks, and may therefore be seen on radar.

Large numbers of ducks spend the day resting on the lakes, and forage in the surrounding grassland areas during the night. Geese and gulls show the opposite pattern. They roost on the lakes, and are therefore prime candidates to be disturbed on New Year's Eve.

Geese numbers have been increasing over the last five years, while other species' numbers have been stable. On average, there are approximately 8,000 White-fronted Geese, 2,500 Greylag Geese, 30,000 Eurasian Wigeons and 1,500 Gadwalls. Roost counts indicate that 15,000 - 25,000 Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls sleep on the lakes.