Birds hate drones nearby, and so does the law
Flying within 75 metres of wildlife is now illegal, writes Catherine Evans.
In an aerial battle, eagles fly and drones die. The reported number of such battles isn’t high, but in the stories that make the news, getting the attention of an eagle looks to be a great way to crash your drone.
Eagles are so good at bringing down drones that some military and police forces are even training them to intercept and capture drones. In the U.K., eagles have been used to strop drones from carrying drugs over prison walls. In France and the Netherlands, militaries have trained eagles and other raptors to attack drones that may be involved in terrorist activities.
In Australia, however, it is a commercial operator that has suffered the most loss. A mining company using fixed wing drones to survey parts of Western Australia has gone to great lengths to try to avoid eagle encounters after losing nine drones — at $20,000 each — to wedgetailed eagles.
Getting out very early in the morning appears to be the best strategy. Delivery services will discover flying that pizza to a customer’s door may be more complicated than anticipated!
The trouble is, such aerial encounters can also be bad for eagles and other birds, especially wild ones that don’t have any experience with drones. The rotary blades of most recreational drones can injure or kill. And birds, particularly territorial birds, do not shy away when they feel invaded. Eagles, hawks, and even geese readily attack anyone and anything that approaches their nests. Less territorial birds can be frightened off and abandon their eggs or chicks if a drone approaches.
Now, everywhere in Canada, flying a drone near a bird is illegal under federal law. Transportation Minister Marc Garneau announced on March 16 that recreational users will face a fine of up to $3,000 if drones weighing more than 250 grams are caught flying within 75 metres of buildings, vehicles, vessels, animals or people.
News coverage of this announcement has principally focused on the flying ban near airports, buildings and people. Overlooked has been the ban on flying within 75 metres of animals. And in case anyone should have any doubts about this, birds are animals.
As we approach nesting season on the West Coast, it’s particularly important to get the word out that flying drones near birds and their nests is not allowed.
While the new federal law applies only to drones weighing more than 250 grams, the operator of any size drone can be fined under the B.C. Wildlife Act for harassing birds or other wildlife. Harassment includes causing any adverse reaction or behaviour.
In the City of Vancouver and the Metro Region, there are many eagles nesting in parks and along our beaches and waterways. In past years, curious drone users have been observed trying to peek into those nests.
Fortunately, there are no reported incidents of aerial clashes between eagles and drones in the Vancouver area. But, a Vancouver Island resident was fined $230 last year under the B.C. Wildlife Act for flying a drone near a Bald Eagle nest. Witnesses say while the birds did not attack the drone, they were agitated and a flightless eaglet was at risk of falling when it climbed out and sat near the edge of the nest.
It is possible many recreational drone users do not realize the adverse effects the sound or appearance of a drone can have on wildlife. It is hoped educational and enforcement efforts related to the new law will raise awareness and prevent them from doing unintended harm. And should they see an eagle in the vicinity, they would be well advised to bring their drone down, lest it be brought down for them! You can see how quickly this happens in any of the videos posted online from cameras recovered postcrash. These attacks literally come out of the blue!
The B.C. Conservation Officer Service asks anyone who witnesses a drone flying close to wildlife to contact them through the toll-free conservation officer hotline at 1-877-952-7277.