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Birds, Drones, and Humans: How to share airspace.
by Alicia Amerson
The FAA approved drone flights below 400ft Above Ground Level (AGL).
Did you know over 500 species of birds have been recorded in San Diego County?
I was surprised by this number. I know it's a great place for humans to live, but birds also like the temperate mediterranean weather.
About 300 species stay in the area all year. I was curious to know what types of birds live in San Diego based on habitat preferences. Do they live in town, by the beaches, in the mountains, use the lagoons, make a home in oak woodlands, and prefer the deserts. Like many species birds choose different habitats to live, and many different habitats are home to different species of birds. While some birds are found in nearly every habitat, others are restricted to only a few, or even just one specific habitat.
READER ALERT: To keep this a bit more simple, I am going to talk about three bird species I've seen recently.
The smallest bird I encounter daily is the Anna's Hummingbird, we have multiple bird feeders in the yard and one directly by my office window. These birds use the trees around my home to nest and rest. In the evenings I've heard many different drones buzzing through the neighborhood and I wonder how these smaller birds are impacted.
This hummingbird formerly a California and northern Baja California endemic species has now extended it's range north to British Columbia and east to Arizona. They were able to do this because hummingbirds are nectar feeders and humans have provided opportunities for them to forage on non-native winter-flowering plants. There are several other hummingbirds in the region, but the Anna Hummingbird is the only one that is widespread throughout the year. The small bird has a green back and rump. Males have a beautiful red neck that glimmers in the sunlight. Other hummingbirds in San Diego are: Costa's Hummingbird, Allen's Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird.
Two shorebirds I've seen often this winter are the Marbled Godwit & Whimbrel
The Marbled Godwit is a large salmon-colored shorebird with the long upturned bill. This bird breeds in the northern Great Plains and winters coastally here in San Diego. This bird also likes the temperate weather in San Diego, so a number of non-breeding birds also summer on the California coast. The breeding population typically stay in San Diego region from fall to spring. They prefer salt water habitats where they forage for food by probing in shallow water and soft mud for aquatic insects and mollusks. It also catches grasshoppers and other insects in grassy areas. so they are found primarily either on the beach or in the lagoons.
Whimbrels have a long downward-curving bill, marbled brown feathers and dark streaks on top of the head. It is easy and distinctive on the shoreline. Although it's often mistaken for a long-billed curlew. Curlews have a much longer beak and lack the dark streaks on the crown of the head. As one of the larger shorebirds, standing nearly 18 inches high with long neck and legs, it stands out when feeding along the beach. The whimbrel spends summers along the North Slope of Alaska and then migrates south as winter snows arrive. They winter on the beaches in San Diego.
Check out my Tweet/Periscope video of a Whimbrel on the shore eating at Crystal Pier.
These birds eat mollusks in the sand, and you might imagine that low tide is like showing up to the buffet and the plates already full, where high tide water may cover the foraging area entirely making it difficult for the birds to eat.
When we fly drones during low tide we may seriously impact foraging efforts made by the individuals in the reproductive population. What does this mean?
If you only had two times to eat per day that offered a high abundance of food that was easily accessible, you most likely would not want a predator or a drone flying above your head disturbing your meal.
These birds need coastlines to find food, and being on the ground are vulnerable to many different human activities that also share the coastline.
When we fly drones over these birds, they may see this as a predator or the noise disturbance may cause them to stop foraging. When they stop foraging in these two opportune time periods in a day that can mean energetic loss.
When we don't get enough food we get tired and sick. Same for birds.
To reduce disturbance you can use these 6 simple tips to protect the wildlife in your flight plan.
Here are 6 general tips you can use to reduce bird disturbance.
1. Plan ahead by researching the birds that might be in the same area as your flight plan
2. Research bird behavior and seasonality
3. Reduce impacts by flying over head
4. Never fly above the birds that are on the ground
5. If a bird becomes interested in your drone, fly at a higher altitude and slowly move your drone out of the area (return to home).
6. Take the Alimosphere Pledge to reduce wildlife disturbance.
Take the pledge to reduce drone impacts to wildlife. Pledge Here.