Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics

New Year’s Eve no cause for celebration for birds

2 December 2011

Researchers of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) used an operational weather radar to quantify the reactions of birds to the thousands of tons of fireworks set off on New Year’s Eve every year. They found that New Year’s Eve is no cause for celebration for birds. The results were published in the November/December 2011 issue of Behavioral Ecology.

Monitoring the reaction of birds to fireworks yourself

KNMI weather radar images showing the reaction of birds to fireworks at the start of 2012, as well as in previous years can be viewed via the following link.

Researchers of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) used an operational weather radar to quantify the reactions of birds to the thousands of tons of fireworks set off on New Year’s Eve every year. They found that New Year’s Eve is no cause for celebration for birds. The results were published in the November/December 2011 issue of Behavioral Ecology.

Most people will intuitively agree that light flashes and loud noices associated with firework displays have a negative impact on animals. However, the fact that fireworks are usually set off in the dark makes it difficult to study the actual effects on wildlife. This prompted Judy Shamoun-Baranes of IBED's Computational Geo-Ecology research group to use a technique that does not require light to study the impact of fireworks on birds. Together with IBED colleagues Adriaan Dokter, Emiel van Loon and Willem Bouten, and partners from the Royal Dutch Air Force and the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute (KNMI), she used an operational weather radar to track the response of birds to fireworks. For three consequtive years they quantified the reaction of birds to thousands of tons of fireworks traditionally set off by civilians in The Netherlands at midnight on New Year’s Eve. They found that 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 spatial and temporal extent of disturbance is such that adverse effects can be expected on the many species of waterfowl that use The Netherlands as winter staging area.

The movie above shows the radar images of birds flying off in great numbers when the clock strikes midnight on New Years eve 2008/2009.

This is not the first time, IBED and its partners used radar to monitor bird behaviour. In the last decade, similar approaches were used amongst others to develop a warning system to avoid collisions of military aircrafts with birds, and to study the behaviour of migratory birds. The bird movement studies are facilitated by the BiG Grid infrastructure for e-Science.

Published by  IBED