Deferring to nesting birds, Hingham postpones Fourth of July fireworks until fall

For the fourth year in a row, there will be no Fourth of July fireworks over Hingham Harbor as the traditional celebration was called off yet again — this time because of birds.

In previous years, the fireworks were canceled first because of lack of volunteers to run the privately managed event — the local Lions Club is in charge — and then because of the pandemic. This year, the celebration ran afoul of federal and state rules protecting migratory birds.

Hingham’s fireworks has traditionally been launched from Button Island in Hingham Harbor, a tiny outcropping about 10 feet high, covered in brambles and described in an 1893 local history as “a little heap of rock and gravel, not worth visiting.”

But a new study by Mass Audubon has found that three pairs of American oystercatchers and about 40 black-crowned night heron are nesting on the island — and that hundreds more black-crowned night heron and great egrets are nesting close by on Sarah Island.

The nesting birds are “very vulnerable to fireworks,” said Lyra Brennan, director of Mass Audubon’s Coastal Waterbird Program. She said the birds can be killed outright, die from eating the fireworks residue, or the adult birds can be frightened away and abandon their nests and chicks.

Brennan said the birds may have been on the islands before, but Mass Audubon only started monitoring the islands two years ago under a contract with the National Park Service.

“I don’t know if anyone knew how important Hingham Harbor is for all these birds,” she said. It’s great news for conservationists. We wanted to make sure we notified the landowners (the town of Hingham in this case) and all the partners,” including state and federal wildlife agencies.

That notification is what led to the 25-year-old Fourth of July tradition being put on hold. This year’s event had been planned for July 1 — made possible by financial backing from Showcase Cinemas — and in the past has drawn thousands of people to the Hingham Bathing Beach for music, food, and half an hour of professional fireworks.

Lions Club President Mark Casale said the plan now is to hold the fireworks and all the fixings at the harbor sometime in the fall, after the birds are finished nesting on the islands.

“The Hingham Lions will do the right thing,” Casale said. “Of course we want to do the event, and we will do the event, it’s just a question of where and when.”

Hingham isn’t the only community that had to change its Fourth of July plans to accommodate birds. The town of Barnstable delayed its fireworks to Labor Day weekend to avoid disturbing nesting piping plovers and least terns.

Johanna Seltz can be reached at

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