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Biol Lett. 2015 Feb;11(2):20140754. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0754.

Approaching birds with drones: first experiments and ethical guidelines.

Author information

1
CEFE UMR 5175, CNRS - Université de Montpellier - Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier - EPHE, 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Cedex 05, Montpellier, France Cyleone, Cap Omega, Rond-point Benjamin Franklin, CS 39521 34960 Montpellier Cedex 2, France Labex NUMEV, 161 rue Ada, Campus Saint Priest UM2, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 05, France.
2
CEFE UMR 5175, CNRS - Université de Montpellier - Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier - EPHE, 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Cedex 05, Montpellier, France.
3
Cyleone, Cap Omega, Rond-point Benjamin Franklin, CS 39521 34960 Montpellier Cedex 2, France Labex NUMEV, 161 rue Ada, Campus Saint Priest UM2, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 05, France.
4
CEFE UMR 5175, CNRS - Université de Montpellier - Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier - EPHE, 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Cedex 05, Montpellier, France OSU OREME UMS 3282 CNRS-UMS 223 IRD-Université Montpellier 2, Place Eugène Bataillon, 34095 Montpellier Cedex 05, France FitzPatrick Institute and DST/NRF Excellence Centre, University of Cape Town, 7701 Rondebosch, South Africa david.gremillet@cefe.cnrs.fr.

Abstract

Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones, are being increasingly used in ecological research, in particular to approach sensitive wildlife in inaccessible areas. Impact studies leading to recommendations for best practices are urgently needed. We tested the impact of drone colour, speed and flight angle on the behavioural responses of mallards Anas platyrhynchos in a semi-captive situation, and of wild flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) and common greenshanks (Tringa nebularia) in a wetland area. We performed 204 approach flights with a quadricopter drone, and during 80% of those we could approach unaffected birds to within 4 m. Approach speed, drone colour and repeated flights had no measurable impact on bird behaviour, yet they reacted more to drones approaching vertically. We recommend launching drones farther than 100 m from the birds and adjusting approach distance according to species. Our study is a first step towards a sound use of drones for wildlife research. Further studies should assess the impacts of different drones on other taxa, and monitor physiological indicators of stress in animals exposed to drones according to group sizes and reproductive status.

KEYWORDS:

animal behaviour; ecology; ornithology; robot; stress; unmanned aerial vehicles

PMID:
25652220
PMCID:
PMC4360097
DOI:
10.1098/rsbl.2014.0754
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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