Protect your birds from loud noises and falling 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
4th of July show above water. The smell of hot dogs and bug spray was in the air.
Key West is one of the places in the United States overrun with herds of feral chickens. While walking around downtown, I saw the birds hiding in the bushes or flying up to roost in a tree as night fell. They mostly take care of themselves. When a hurricane passed through, I saw that they faced the wind and sheltered behind tall trees. But the fireworks were something else. I could hear screams between the poles. A hen walked on the sand with half a dozen chicks in tow. They were still egg-shaped and fluffy, and couldn’t be more than two days old. I saw them move every
times a firework exploded as if it were a strobe light. I knew that many studies showed that fireworks affected people with PTSD, susceptible dogs, and most wildlife. But it hadn’t occurred to me until then that chickens might also be disturbed by sound.
sensitive to sound
“Fireworks go off so close to our house and they’re not legal in the town we’re in, but our neighborhood is rebellious on July 4 and New Years,” said Jess Bagdanov, who raises a small flock of chickens in Ventura County, California. The fireworks are substantial enough to give the impression of having a professional show next door. His birds were too young to be outside on July 4 last year, but they had been in their coop for a few months by the time of the New Year celebrations. “All three laid eggs
soft-shelled eggs everywhere,” Bagdanov said of the following days. “I felt so bad, like I had abused my animals.” She’s already worried about what to do when the 4th of July rolls around this year. “Do I bring them inside or do I take them to my parents? The neighbors, unfortunately, are not going to stop partying.
“Some species of birds are really sensitive to sound,” said Dr. Marli Lintner, DVM, who directs the Avian Medical Center in Oregon. “You can tell when there are earthquakes because African grays fall from perches
at night.” She rarely sees chickens come in for a visit after the 4
July with serious problems. “The chickens have been pretty stable.” While the dogs
can be brought into a quiet room or given sedatives, it is more difficult to know
what to do for a flock of noise-sensitive chickens.
Prepare and protect
For those in trouble, Dr Lintner says she has had no luck calming birds of any species. “We keep them as confined as possible.” For some flock owners, this may mean bringing the birds inside the house or
stack hay bales to soundproof the chicken coop. If the chicken coop has large windows,
covering them with a tarp or similar material will help prevent the herd from
being disturbed by flashes of light when trying to sleep. Some people also recommend playing soft music as a kind of white noise for the
Fortunately, even though flock owners like Bagdanov have flocks that lay soft-shelled eggs in response to stress, the problem usually resolves itself in record time.
A few days. The noise and flashes of fireworks can be hard on birds, but
as long as they’re healthy, it shouldn’t cause any serious problems.
pick up the pieces
Still, there are other things to be aware of if you’re lighting fireworks in your own backyard and have free-range chickens. The colors of the fireworks are
made by exploding heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, aluminum and mercury, to name a few. The Pet Poison Helpline lists fireworks as having “mild to moderate” toxicity to pets and notes that the severity of health issues will depend on the “type of fireworks and amount 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. Due to the way their gizzards grind up materials, birds are particularly susceptible to heavy metal poisoning. (Zinc toxicity is extremely common in backyard poultry and stems from the birds finding bits of galvanized metal and pecking at them.)
“The majority that goes down is cardboard and most of it is burning,” said Dr.
Lintner said, but adds, “I wouldn’t want my chickens ending up in spinoff stuff.”
Chickens seem to have an uncanny knack for finding small scraps of anything left in the yard. Most of the worst materials from fireworks will be used in an explosion, but it’s always best to stay safe and pick up any scraps left in the yard before letting the herd out. This makes setting up fireworks on a paved surface like a patio or driveway that can be swept a better option than doing so
on the grass.
Many people are now rethinking the use of fireworks in celebrations due to the negative effects they can have on people and wildlife. The Key West hen and chicks I saw would certainly have been happier if we hadn’t had such an explosive celebration near their roost. However discuss with
neighbors moving their fireworks further away from your chicken coop and making sure to pick up debris from sparklers, bong pops and other firework dwellings can go a long way in keeping your chickens safe and happy.
TOVE DANOVICH is a writer based in Portland, OR, where she catalogs the antics of her flock on Instagram @BestLittleHenhouse. You can also find it on Twitter @TKDano or on his website