Chickens and Fireworks
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Protect your birds from the loud noises and fallen firework debris.
By Tove Danovich. The hen must have woken up as soon as the fireworks started. I was on the beach in Key West, Florida, with hundreds of other people watching the Fourth of July display over the water. The smell of hot dogs and bug spray was in the air.
Key West is one of the places in the U.S. overrun by flocks of feral chickens. As I walked around downtown, I saw the birds hiding in bushes or flying up to roost in a tree as night fell. They mostly take care of themselves. When a hurricane rolled through, I watched as they faced into the wind and took shelter behind large trees. But the fireworks were something else. I could hear peeping between the booms. A hen was walking across the sand with half a dozen chicks in tow. They were still egg-shaped and fluffy, and couldn’t have been more than a couple of days old. I saw them move every time a firework went off like it was a strobe light. I knew that many studies showed fireworks affected people with PTSD, sensitive dogs, and most wildlife. But it hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that chickens might be bothered by the sound, too.
Sensitive to Sound
“The fireworks go off so close to our house and they’re not legal in the city we’re in, but our neighborhood is rebellious on Fourth of July and New Year’s,” said Jess Bagdanov, who keeps a small flock of chickens in Ventura County, California. The fireworks are substantial enough that it’s like having a professional show next door. Her birds were too young to be outside during the 4th of July last year, but had been in their coop for a few months by the time New Year’s celebrations rolled around. “All three of them laid soft shelled eggs all over the place,” Bagdanov said of the following days. “I felt so terrible, like I’d abused my animals.” She’s already worried about what to do when the Fourth of July rolls around this year. “Do I bring them inside or take them to my parent’s house?” The neighbors, unfortunately, are not going to stop celebrating.
“Certain species of birds are really sensitive to sound,” said Dr. Marli Lintner, DVM, who runs Avian Medical Center in Oregon. “You can tell when there are earth tremors because African Grays fall off perches at night.” She rarely sees chickens come in for a visit after the Fourth of July with serious issues. “The chickens have been pretty stable.” While dogs can be brought to a quiet room or given sedatives, it’s harder to know what to do for a sound-sensitive flock of chickens.
Prepare and Protect
For ones who do have issues, Dr. Lintner says that she hasn’t had luck sedating birds of any species. “We just keep them as confined as we can.” For some flock owners, that might mean bringing birds inside the house or piling up hay bales to soundproof the coop. If the coop has large windows, covering them with a tarp or similar material will help keep the flock from being disturbed by flashes of light when they’re trying to sleep. Some people also recommend playing soft music as a kind of white noise for the birds.
Luckily, even if flock owners like Bagdanov have flocks that lay some soft-shelled eggs in response to stress, the problem usually resolves within a few days. Noise and flashes from fireworks can be hard on the birds, but as long as they’re healthy otherwise, it shouldn’t cause serious issues.
Picking Up the Pieces
Yet there are other things to be aware of if you set fireworks off in your own yard and have free-ranging chickens. The colors in fireworks are made by exploding heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, aluminum, and mercury, just to name a few. The Pet Poison helpline lists fireworks as having “mild to moderate” toxicity for animals and notes that the severity of health issues will depend on “the type of fireworks and the amount that was ingested.”
Popular “bang snaps” that make a satisfying cracking sound when thrown against a hard surface contain gravel mixed with silver fulminate. Unexploded ones could be extremely harmful to curious chickens. Because of the way their gizzards grind down material, birds are especially suspectable to heavy metal poisoning. (Zinc toxicity is extremely common in backyard poultry and comes from the birds finding pieces of galvanized metal and pecking them up.)
“The majority coming down is cardboard and most burns off,” Dr. Lintner said, but adds, “I wouldn’t want my chickens getting into fallout stuff.”
Chickens seem to have an uncanny knack for finding little scraps of anything left in the yard. Most of the worst material in fireworks will be used up during an explosion, but it’s still best to stay safe and pick up any scraps left around the yard before letting the flock out. This makes setting up fireworks on a paved surface like a patio or driveway that can be swept up a better option than doing it on grass.
Many people are now rethinking the use of fireworks in celebrations due to the negative effects they can have on people and wildlife alike. The Key West hen and chicks I saw would have certainly been happier if we’d gone without such an explosive celebration close to their roost. Yet chatting with the neighbors about moving their fireworks farther from your coop and making sure to pick up debris from sparklers, bang snaps, and other firework housing can go a long way to keeping your chickens safe and happy.
TOVE DANOVICH is a writer based in Portland, OR where she catalogs her flock’s antics on Instagram @ BestLittleHenhouse. You can also find her on Twitter @ TKDano or on her website www.ToveDanovich.com.
Originally published in the June/July 2023 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine and regularly vetted for accuracy.