How energy-sapping drones could be impacting the sex life of endangered birds

Researchers have called for greater regulation of drones after finding they were having a big impact on endangered species.

The easterm curlew was being impacted by drones (Photo: Australian Conservation Foundation_

The easterm curlew was being impacted by drones (Photo: Australian Conservation Foundation_

The research from the University of Queensland said the eastern curlew, whose numbers have been reduced by as much as 80 per cent in the past 30 years because of habitat degradation, was the most impacted.

The team, led by PhD candidate Joshua Wilson, carried out 240 drone approaches over flocks of birds in Moreton Bay and found that 11 species were generally unaffected.

“The stark exception was the critically endangered eastern curlew which reacted by becoming startled and flying away even when we flew above them at the legal ceiling of 120 metres,” Wilson said.

“This them had a domino effect on nearby species, which would also become startled and fly away in response to the eastern curlew’s reaction.”

He said the result was alarming.

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“Drones can interrupt birds as they try to rest or feed and birds avoid habitats that are regularly disturbed,” Wilson said.

“If the birds are consistently interrupted or scared away for their preferred habitats, species like the eastern curlew, which migrates thousands of kilometres to breed, may find it difficult to gain the energy they need to survive and reproduce.”

He said a drones had a commercial and recreational benefit and were even used to monitor birds in hard-to-reach locations, but the findings indicated they needed more space.

“In most cases this is 60 metres but some species are more sensitive,” he said.

“We recommend that organisations that can influence this problem, such as the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Parks and Wildlife Services, regulate drone use near bird flocks, especially those containing at-risk and highly sensitive species.”

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