Bird interactions with drones, from individuals to large colonies

Full citation: 
Lyons, M., Brandis, K., Callaghan, C., McCann, J., Mills, C., Ryall, S., and Kingsford, R. (2018) Bird interactions with drones, from individuals to large colonies. Australian Field Ornithology 35: 51-56.
Author/s associated with the CES: 
Mitchell Lyons
Kate Brandis
Justin McCann
Charlotte Mills
Sharon Ryall
Richard Kingsford
Corey Callaghan

Abstract

Drones are rapidly becoming a key part of the toolkit for a range of scientific disciplines, as well as a range of management and commercial applications. This presents challenges in the context of how drone use might impact on nearby wildlife, especially birds as they might share the airspace. This paper presents observations (from 97 flight hours) and offers preliminary guidance for drone-monitoring exercises and future research to develop guidelines for safe and effective monitoring with drones. Our study sites spanned a range of arid, semi-arid, dunefield, floodplain, wetland, woodland, forest, coastal heath and urban environments in south-eastern and central Australia. They included a nesting colony of >200 000 Straw-necked Ibis Threskiornis spinicollis, the largest drone-based bird-monitoring exercise to date. We particularly focused on behavioural changes towards drones during the breeding season, interactions with raptors, and effects on birds nesting in large colonies—three areas yet to be explored in published literature. Some aggressive behaviour was encountered from solitary breeding birds, but several large breeding bird colonies were surveyed without such issues. With multi-rotor drones, we observed no incidents that posed a threat to birds, but one raptor attacked and took down a fixed-wing drone. In addition to providing observations of interactions with specific bird species, we detail our procedures for flight planning, safe flying and avoidance of birds, and highlight the need for more research into bird– drone interactions, most notably with respect to territorial breeding birds, safety around large raptors, and the effects of drones on the behaviour of birds in large breeding colonies.

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