Hi Doug,

Do fireworks and loud noises bother birds? I heard so many small fireworks celebrations around the lake where we have a camp and I was wondering if this had any impact on birds, especially nesting loons.

Sue Townsend, Raymond

We always get questions about fireworks around the Fourth of July, but since the change to Maine’s law in 2012, allowing the sale of consumer fireworks, we hear about more and more conflicts with wildlife. And not just around the July holiday. This simple answer is yes, fireworks definitely disturb birds, but let’s consider what they do and how we can minimize impacts.

Perhaps the biggest threat to wildlife from fireworks is displacement of nesting species. For the sake of this column, I’ll focus on birds, but the concept applies to other groups of wildlife. A single firework, or any unexpected loud blast or sound, is enough to scare a bird off a nest, and this happens often. I’m sure many readers can think of a bird’s nest that was on or near their porch – an Eastern phoebe or house finch – and each time you went outside, the bird flushed from its nest. The problem lies in how often, and when, the bird is off the nest. An unguarded nest is at risk to predators and exposure, which in the case of cold or wet weather can be amplified at night when fireworks are being used.

Often people are simply not aware of wildlife around them while the “bombs bursting in air” are at their peak. Years ago, we had a case along a southern Maine beach where an adult piping plover was scared off its nest by fireworks. A group of people had set up their beach chairs close to the closed nesting area, which unfortunately scared the adult from returning to the nest. By the time our biologists found it the following morning, the chicks had died from exposure. So, before your next fireworks show, consider the location and how being away from beaches or lakes can help some of our at-risk birds.

Are fireworks really necessary? If you want to see a (figurative and literal) “real” light-show, mark your calendars for the Perseid meteor shower later this summer!

Hello Doug,

I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on who/what may have beheaded a garter snake and then fled? It seems so odd that nothing was eaten or carried off. Maybe that musky odor they put off did the trick just a little too late. Any thoughts?

Richard Connelly

Let me start by apologizing to any squeamish readers: I know that one of the most common phobias is the fear of snakes (ophidiophobia). But as most people reading this column are likely nature enthusiasts, a question involving decapitation of a snake is not exactly a mood raiser. It is a thought-provoking question and one that I hope we can learn from or at least gain a new perspective.

We can start by assuming the best intentions and wonder what creature could have killed this snake. From the photo you provided, it’s clearly our common garter snake, which may have one of the most mispronounced names of all backyard wildlife: it’s not a gardener snake, not “gahd-nah” (as most Mainers say), but garter, from the species name siratalis meaning “like a garter” in reference to their patterns looking like a garter strap. Really!

Garters have a lot of predators, from hawks and crows, to foxes, squirrels, raccoons, and even some reptiles like snapping turtles. Typically, all of these predators would want to carry off their prey, especially in the case of the broad-winged hawk, which has a nest with several hungry chicks to feed. Great horned owls are also well-known predators that decapitate their prey, but again, should have carried away the meal. It is certainly possible that Richard happened to walk up on a recent kill, left behind by a flushed hawk or a fleeing fox. Unfortunately, my ophidiophobia-inspired hunch is that the snake was killed by a human, probably with the blade of a shovel.

With so many people being scared of snakes, their persecution is regretfully common. A quick Internet search will show some states even recommend the grotesque shovel-control method – which perhaps is effective for invasive pythons in Florida but should not be considered for our native species in Maine. We don’t even have any venomous snakes in Maine, which would perhaps be the only human-health concern used to justify this maltreatment.

My recommendation to everyone is to learn a bit about snakes, as it is probably a lack of knowledge that makes them “scary”. Did you know garter snakes are ovoviviparous and give birth to live young? Another quick search will bring up a list of unwanted garden critters that they’ll eat out of your backyard, while not harming you at all!

Do you have a nature question for Doug? Email questions to [email protected] and visit maineaudubon.org to learn more about virtual and backyard birding, online classes and other programs about Maine wildlife and habitat.


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