Drones are a relatively new innovation. As well as being great fun to fly these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have many practical applications including the monitoring of landscapes and wildlife. They are becoming progressively more affordable and so there are likely to be more and more buzzing around above our heads. Not to mention Amazon's plans to use drones as delivery vehicles. But what is the possible impact on birds? Do drones scare birds?
Are New Guidelines Required?
If drones do scare birds then new guidelines for their use may be required, especially when they are flown for environmental monitoring. After all, there would be little point in deploying drones in an attempt to benefit nature if the vehicles themselves negatively impact the natural world.
Research Into the Impact of Drones
In 2015., Elizabeth Vas, a Master's student, conducted a study into the effect of drones on birds. Her aim was to assist Cyleone, a robotics company producing drones who wished to establish a flying protocol for the environmentalists who were potential investors in their equipment. Vas utilised a quadricopter controlled from the ground, the type of highly manoeuvrable drone which would be of use to environmentalists creating inventories.
In order to conduct the research, it was important to find an area where the tests could be conducted legally and with the consent of the relevant authorities. The wetland of the Camargue near Montpellier, France was chosen. The drone was fitted with a GoPro camera and during the experiment, several variables were considered including the colour of the drone, the approach speed, the approach altitude and the prevailing weather conditions. Birds were approached by the drone from different angles and at different speeds. The reaction of the birds was then observed. If a reaction was noted, the drone was stopped and its position relative to the birds recorded. Each type of flight was repeated with a different colour drone. In total 204 approaches to birds were made. The birds observed included mallards, greenshanks and flamingos. The results were very surprising!
Birds' Reactions to Drone Flights
It was anticipated that the wild birds would react in some way to all of the drone flights, but they seldom reacted at all. Reactions were only noted when a 90 degree approach was employed and the drone was also just above the birds. In 80% of all flights the birds completely ignored the drone. It was noted that larger groups of birds tended to show the strongest responses. Further research would be useful to explore the impact of different sizes of drone and if the reactions of the birds change during the nesting season. But this study suggests that drones could be deployed in environmental research without negatively impacting avian wildlife. This is great news for environmentalists as drones are becoming more accessible to them and could prove vital to their research.