Cottage Q&A: Do loons react to fireworks?

A display of fireworks against a dark night sky By Dana.S/Shutterstock

During my lake association’s fireworks show over the last long weekend, I heard loons calling back and forth. Were they reacting to the noise of the fireworks?—Duke McGilliam

Yes. “Loons don’t like them,” says Doug Tozer of Birds Canada. “The calls they give are likely stress/alarm calls in response. They do the same thing to any other loud noise, like incoming float planes and big boats.” Loud noise affects their ability to hear properly, and it probably scares them. Okay, so fireworks aren’t good for loons (or other birds, or other wildlife). Obviously. But…just how bad are they?

When it comes to loons, “fireworks are not likely to cause a population level impact,” says Kathy Jones, also with Birds Canada and the volunteer manager for the Canadian Lakes Loon Survey. “But there are growing concerns about the individual pair impact.” For example, do fireworks frighten adult loons enough to make them abandon their chicks? “We don’t know,” admits Jones. “But one would think that the risk does exist, depending on how close the parents and chicks are to the fireworks.”

Now you’re probably feeling torn. You love a good fireworks display. But you also love loons. If your lake association’s on board, there are alternatives to traditional fireworks. Light shows, for example, “have the same brilliance but do not create noise or put pollutants and chemicals into the environment,” says Jones. You could also investigate “quiet fireworks.” Certain communities in Canada—Banff, Canmore, and Halifax, for example—have started using them. (Keep in mind, these fireworks aren’t silent—they’re just not nearly as loud.) Some U.S. organizations have started to use a series of drones outfitted with LED lights as a fireworks alternative.

One straightforward (and inexpensive) way a community—or an individual cottager—can reduce the impact of fireworks on wildlife is to limit how frequently they celebrate with fireworks. Ask yourself: “How often should fireworks be used at a lake?” says Jones. Every day of the holiday weekend? Only certain holiday weekends? Once a year, on Canada Day, ringing in Victoria Day and the New Year with only glow sticks and sparklers?

As with any situation where you’re weighing human interests against environmental impact, “careful thought should be taken with fireworks,” says Jones.

Got a question to Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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