DRONES are scaring ducks, geese and other wintering waterbirds, according to new research.
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Scotland studied how drones affected waterbirds feeding in coastal, freshwater and arable farm habitats.
Its scientists found larger flocks were more likely to take flight than smaller flocks, and large flocks also took flight at a greater distance from the drone than smaller flocks.
The BTO said: “This is probably because the larger the flock, the more likely there is to be a sensitive individual present – in almost all cases, once one bird had responded to the drone, the rest of the flock followed.”
The researchers also found that the habitat the birds were in had a strong effect on responses; birds at inland lochs where there was already lots of human activity were very unlikely to respond to the drone, while birds at coastal sites were more likely to respond.
The scientists noted: “Birds in arable farmland were particularly sensitive – flocks feeding in this habitat are probably most susceptible to disturbance because of the need to be on the lookout for predators.”
David Jarrett, lead author for the research paper, which is published today in the Bird Study journal, said: “While we expected that the drone would cause large flocks to flush, we were surprised that birds hardly seemed to respond to the drone at all at those inland lochs where there was already lots of human activity taking place.
“Hopefully this research can be used to help inform guidance and regulations on drone use in proximity to wild birds.”
Read more stories about birds on Scottish Field’s wildlife pages.