“They are territorial”: can birds and drones coexist? | Australian bird of the year 2021


Drone delivery company Wing has temporarily suspended deliveries to Harrison, on the outskirts of Canberra, after a nesting crow stung a drone delivering coffee.

This has sparked an interesting dichotomy: If such deliveries are a carbon-friendly future, can birds and drones coexist, or do steps need to be taken to mitigate the damaging effects of drones on wildlife?

Drones delivering hot coffee? Yes. Wing delivers hot coffee, groceries, medicine and equipment to locked homes in Canberra and unlocked homes in Logan, Queensland.

It plans to expand after the lockdown, touting itself as a zero-emissions, low-energy, eco-friendly, fast and safe delivery method that will get cars off the road.

“Hot food and coffee are popular because we fly so fast,” says Jesse Suskin, public policy manager at Wing. He talks about their pro-environmental and low-energy credentials.

“If you order pasta through our app, it takes more energy to cook the pasta than to deliver it. “

But now Wing, which started three years ago and does one delivery every minute to Canberra and one every 30 seconds to Logan, has now reached hot water itself.

Raven attack

Wing hires an ornithological expert who advised him to suspend deliveries to this area during mating / stinging season.

“It’s rare that we see birds attacking drones, but this year that behavior seemed slightly more aggressive than what we had seen before,” says Suskin.

But Mike Weston says crows pursue birds of prey as a threat all year round. Maybe that’s what started this crow.

The associate professor of wildlife conservation at Deakin University says birds attacking drones are also not uncommon.

“Deakin is about to publish a study of 275 drone pilots showing that nearly 20% reported physical contact between their drone and a bird. So that’s a problem, ”he says.

Birdlife Australia’s Sean Dooley says it’s unclear whether birds like this crow confuse drones with other birds, or simply recognize them as a threat: “They’re territorial,” he says. And they don’t hesitate to attack bigger birds: “I’ve seen poor old pelicans or herons get hammered by crows or magpies. This behavior is much more pronounced during the nesting season, but also occurs outside of it, ”he says.

Dooley says he’s never seen crows attacking drones before, but has seen such behavior in wedge-tailed eagles, Australia’s largest bird of prey. In Holland, eagles have been trained to shoot down illegal drones.

It’s not just about conserving wildlife; it is also for drone delivery companies to have a sustainable business model without losing too many drones.

“Whenever a bird attacks a drone, the drone usually ranks second,” Dooley explains.

This is certainly corroborated by Guardian Australia photographer Mike Bowers, whose photographic drones have been attacked three times.

“It was an expensive exercise – zero drones, three birds!” Bowers said, adding that he was relieved the birds weren’t hurt.

“Raptors seem very determined – and they are quick“He says.” They use their talons to hit and break the propellers, and the drone falls from the sky and shatters into a million pieces, “he said.

Drones are great for environmentalists

Avifauna expert Sean Dooley is keen to emphasize how drones are a boon to environmentalists.

“When properly used, they’re great for accurately counting endangered bird colonies in inaccessible areas,” he says.

He says more research is underway to determine the safest distance without scaring off endangered seabird nests – the results of which will prove instructive for drone delivery services.

“It’s the perching coastal birds that we need to be aware of,” Dooley says. “Drones can scare them off, cause them to fly off the safe perch, expend a lot of energy and expose the chicks to predators like gulls,” he says, calling for more regulation around these areas.

Professor Weston says the effects of drones go beyond territorial attacks and disrupt those who nest: “Their less dramatic but still significant effects could cause birds to stop feeding and disrupt their breeding patterns,” a- he said, adding that further research will highlight the extent of these impacts. .

He says a centralized recording of all interactions with wildlife and drones will help inform solutions: “We currently rely mostly on internet videos,” he says.

Pending more comprehensive research, RSPCA Australia suggests that the use of drones should be minimized, citing the potential stress induced by the sound / visual stimulus of the drone.

“Codes of practice so far could include: low noise production and size drones, launching and landing at least 100m away from animals and avoiding moving directly towards the animals as this could mimic predator behavior, ”says Dr Di Evans, Senior Scientist, RSPCA Australia.

Weston is calling for standardized protocols, agreed no-fly zones and better training for drone operators on what to do in the event of an aggressive encounter. “There could also be technological solutions such as the automatic modification of flight paths and flights using sensors,” he says.

Photographer Mike Bowers says it’s all part of life in Australia.

“You live alongside a variety of wildlife – you have to accept that raptors live in our skies, just as surfers have to accept that there are sharks in our seas.”

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