Drones are now a household name; children ask for them as gifts on special occasions, hobbits fly them on the weekends, and professionals are utilizing them for better business. With drones being so prevalent in our personal lives now, we also have to think about how these objects affect the environment. More specifically, we have to look at how they can impact the birds that are flying and living in the same environment.
Different Uses for Drones
Here are some of the most common uses for drones today:
- Military uses, such as for renaissance, surveillance, and intelligence missions
- Taking pictures and/or videos at a wedding
- A fun pastime for all age groups
- Serial photography for journalistic purposes
- Geographic mapping for terrain or locations that might be difficult and dangerous to venture into on foot or a land vehicle
- Search and rescue operations
- Disaster management, including dropping essential supplies and gathering important information
These unmanned vehicles are now small and light enough to be flown in parks, gardens, and other large open spaces where initially only birds flew. With their rotary blades and loud noise (which may vary among different models), it’s evident that drones might be hurting the birds or scaring them off. While there are ways to make your drone quieter, the fact remains that any new, strange noise will be frightening for most birds.
Can Drones Really Cause Harm to Birds?
Since drones are quite invasive to the environment, they can potentially cause a lot of harm to the birds in the area. This can result in driving off the birds completely, which then may cause them further harm as they look for new homes. Here are just a few issues that may arise when drones become widely used in a certain location:
1. Nests can become disrupted
If people fly drones very close to bird nests, rookeries, or bird sanctuaries, they will scare the feathered occupants. A drone is both unfamiliar and probably scary to a bird, who doesn’t have the evolutionary knowledge to deal with this new object in their vicinity. It’s no surprise if the adult birds even abandon their young, both chicks and eggs. At the very least, they might end up neglecting their offspring in order to avoid the drones. Such effects will reduce the breeding rate and success for all local bird populations.
The chart below shows how birds tend to change the incoming and outgoing habits when a drone starts flying in a certain vicinity:
2. Fading away of sensitive species
There are a lot of endangered animal and bird species today and there might be even more if birds abandon their nests or neglect their young due to these threatening flying objects. The effects are even more negative when combined with the loss of natural habitats and other changes that birds and animals are currently experiencing (deforestation, climate change, etc.). When the young of a species dies and the adults don’t feel safe in rearing their offspring, the numbers of any species will probably drastically reduce or fade out altogether.
3. A higher probability of bird attacks
Birds might be vulnerable creatures for the most part, but there are some species (such as raptors) that will protect their territory with all they’ve got. If they view the drones as a threat, they just might attack the vehicles. Such attacks might cause little harm to the drones, but they’re likely to harm the bird more often. The moving blades and other equipment could cause irreversible injury to the body and wings. Plus, when birds are constantly stressed about an approaching enemy or spending time fighting it, they won’t be providing care or food for their offspring. They will also neglect their own needs; all of these factors will again cause a reduction in populations within that area.
4. Scattered Leks
Leks are a gathering of the males of a species (animals, birds, or insects). These are made with the aim of having competitive rituals and displays, usually for the sake of courting the females. This practise is called lekking, after which the females choose the ones they want to mate with. Naturally, this phenomenon is important for the sake of breeding for many species.
When drones come into the picture, however, they can cause a lot of havoc. Birds who gather for lekking are especially sensitive to any kind of disturbances in the environment. If a drone appears during this time, it might very well seem like a large predator to the lekking birds, who will then scatter before the courtship rituals are over. The scattering will drastically reduce their chances of finding proper mates. If they don’t congregate for the leak again, or take too long to find another safe site, the birds could lose out on several generations of offspring. .
5. Abandoned food sources
If drones disturb or scare off birds who are foraging or feeding, that bird might leave the food course altogether. The whole species in that area could then seek out other resources which might not be as safe, nutritious, or abundant. A disruption like this could again lower bird populations, since the malnourished birds wouldn’t be able to breed many chicks nor rear them properly.
6. Possibility of collisions
It’s possible that a drone could fly right into a bird or even a whole flock. While such collisions are not very likely, they will cause some very severe injuries for the birds. This is why drone owners should take steps to prevent drones from colliding with birds.
Can Drones Help Birds As Well?
Looking at the discussion so far, it’s evident that drones do have the potential to harm birds in and around the areas where they’re flown. With the rapidly increasing use of drones, especially recreational ones, these negative effects are likely to become more widespread as well.
However, we have to look at the positive side of this picture as well. As with most technological innovations, drones also have some very important uses. Let’s now take a look at how they can be positively used for the potential benefit of bird populations:
1. Safe monitoring of sensitive places
If we make sure to utilize drones with caution, they might be able to monitor nests, sanctuaries, rookeries, and even leks without disturbing the birds there. With infrared and zoom technology, certain drone models might even be able to collect data from a non-disturbing distance. This information could include:
- Counting and assessing bird populations in remote or otherwise difficult locations
- Monitoring suspected illegal poaching or other unwanted activities
- Providing help for birds who might be in distress or danger
2. Minimizing collisions near airports
While the likelihood of birds and drones colliding is relatively low, a much more dangerous possibility is that of birds colliding with planes. Drones can be quite useful here, as they can be utilized in keeping flocks away from the vicinity of airports. Not only this, but the drones can collect and record any data that researchers can analyse to keep birds away from the most common flight paths.
3. Helping to preserve habitats while collecting information
With drones being used for monitoring and gathering information, humans and land vehicles wouldn’t have to risk destroying or disturbing many natural habitats. With the information from a drone, we might even be able to make roads and observation facilities without harming the surrounding environment much. This practice will preserve the habitat for the wildlife there, which includes birds.
4. Provide inspiration and motivation
When we learn more about a certain subject, it’s likely that we will also care about it more. Since drones are a part of several commercial filming projects, they can provide aerial footage that is both awe-inspiring and influential. With this information, more people can learn about birds and get motivated to take some action in bird conservation, birding, or even just donating to a cause that benefits birds.
How Do We Use Drones Responsibly?
In order to minimize the negative impact of drones on birds and maximize the potential benefits from this technology, we need to look at how we’re using these flying objects. Here are just a few precautions to keep in mind if you’re a drone owner or enthusiast:
- Make use of smaller models that can have a quieter and relatively unobtrusive flight
- Fly the drone with caution, not going too near the birds and not going too fast either
- Use drone designs that have shields for covering the blades
- Always check the legality of flying drones over construction sites, in parks, and other places
- Follow the local guidelines and restrictions for drone usage
- Don’t attempt any close-ups of wildlife, especially birds, unless you’re a trained professional
With more technological advancements becoming available to the masses, there will be a great impact on all kinds of wildlife in the near future. While there might be a lot of harm caused this way, there are also positive sides to this equation. Understanding both kinds of impacts can help bird enthusiasts and researchers make the best use of drones and other innovative additions to our environment.
The decisions you make can also help to lessen the negative mental impact of drones on birds and other species. Here are the top 5 places to fly your drones, but make sure to stay within the limits of safety and respect for all wildlife.