Although the fireworks on the night of the bonfire bring joy to many people, it is likely to be a night of terror and distress for the geese of the UK.
Research by Anglia Ruskin University has found that fireworks cause significant distress to wild birds, and researchers have recommended that shows not take place in areas with high wildlife populations.
A study, published in the journal Conservation Physiology, is one of the first done on the effects of fireworks on wildlife. She found that the heart rate of geese increased by 96% when subjected to fireworks.
We don’t know if it’s the noise that bothers them, or the flashing lights, or a combination of the two. The scientists said they would conduct further studies.
The study involved 20 wild greylag geese (Answer) fitted with temporary transmitters to record their heart rate and body temperature, which are measures of physiological stress.
The geese at Lake Almsee in Upper Austria have been watched during the annual New Year’s Eve celebrations, which involve fireworks at midnight in villages around the lake.
Claudia Wascher, who led the research, found that their average heart rate increased from 63 to 124 beats per minute and their average body temperature increased by 3%, from 38°C to 39°C, during the first hour of January 1.
It took the geese about five hours before the birds showed normal body temperatures, with average readings returning at 5 a.m.
The geese did not appear to habituate to the fireworks over time, as they were of different ages and there was no significant difference in response correlated with age.
Wascher, an associate professor at Anglia Ruskin’s School of Life Sciences, 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 on how wild animals react.
“In Austria, the New Year’s fireworks start at midnight and last for several minutes. We believe that the increase in physiological stress recorded over several hours is a combination of the increase in physical activity caused by the flight of the geese during the setting off of the fireworks and the psychological stress. This causes the birds to expend extra energy at a time of year when food is scarce.
“We need to conduct further research to conclusively determine whether geese respond to noise or light pollution from fireworks, or a combination of both. Many people are very fond of fireworks, but it’s important that we consider animals – both pets and wildlife – when planning a show. It is clear from our study that we should definitely avoid using fireworks in areas with high wildlife populations.