A scientific review analyzes the existing information on the response of European vultures to drones and provides recommendations to optimize their safe use in the conservation and research of these and other raptors
Vultures are among the most endangered bird guilds on the planet and have a unique functional role within ecosystems. Therefore, they are subject to increasing research interest, which demands standardized study approaches and monitoring methods.
The use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems or drones is rapidly gaining popularity in ecological research due to technological advances, affordability, and accessibility. However, there is a discussion about the use of drones in ornithology due to the potential generation of disturbances that may have negative effects on the health or reproductive success of the birds under study.
A scientific review, carried out by researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Green Balkans, the Research Group in Game Resources and Wildlife Management of the Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos (IREC – CSIC, UCLM, JCCM) and the Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología (IPE – CSIC), has analyzed the existing information on the response of European vultures (including the bearded vulture, Gypaetus barbatus; the griffon vulture, Gyps fulvus; the cinereous vulture, Aegypius monachus; and the Egyptian vulture, Neophron percnopterus) and other raptors to drones, addressing the type of use of this tool and its effects on these species, and providing recommendations to optimize its safe use in vulture conservation and research.
Among the conclusions of the review, the fact that the potential use of drones to increase the efficiency of research and reduce the effort, time and financial cost of it is evident. However, the lack of sufficient data on the effects of long-term disturbances requires a moderate use (applying the precautionary principle), requiring a protocol and practical recommendations adapted to the different species, to limit the potential negative effects of drones and maximize their value in conservation management.
Phenological cycle of Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopetrus), Cinereous Vulture (Aegypius monachus), Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus), Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) and critical periods for drone operations depending on the risk of generating disturbances (red: critical period; yellow: moderate risk; green: low risk).
The recommendations of this work, which include avoiding the use of drones near active nests during the reproductive period, operating the drones with a minimum flight time, and considering the size of the devices when programming their use, are especially for researchers working on vulture conservation projects around the world.
The scientific publication of this research is available at:
- Zink, R., Kmetova-Biro, E., Agnezy, S., Klisurov, I., Margalida, A. 2023. Assessing the potential disturbance effects on the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) for European vultures research: a review and conservation recommendations. Bird Conservation International 33, e45, 1-12.