Aerial drones are increasingly being used as tools for ecological research and wildlife monitoring in hard-to-access study systems, such as in studies of colonial-nesting birds. Despite their many advantages over traditional survey methods, there remains concerns about possible disturbance effects that standard drone survey protocols may have on bird colonies. There is a particular gap in the study of their influence on physiological measures of stress. We measured heart rates of incubating female common eider ducks (Somateria mollissima) to determine whether our drone-based population survey affected them. To do so, we used heart-rate recorders placed in nests to quantify their heart rate in response to a quadcopter drone flying transects 30 m above the nesting colony. Eider heart rate did not change from baseline (measured in the absence of drone survey flights) by a drone flying at a fixed altitude and varying horizontal distances from the bird. Our findings suggest that carefully planned drone-based surveys of focal species have the potential to be carried out without causing physiological impacts among colonial-nesting eiders.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Geldart, Erica A.; Barnas, Andrew F.; Semeniuk, Christina A.D.; Gilchrist, H. Grant; Harris, Christopher M.; and Love, Oliver P.. (2022). A colonial-nesting seabird shows no heart-rate response to drone-based population surveys. Scientific Reports, 12 (1).