Scientists in Montana are using drones to study osprey (Pandion haliaetus). The nest under this new form of surveillance is at the top of a 30m pole. Researcher James Junda pilots his UAV up and over that nest. The buzzing annoys the male osprey and it engages the drone. Suffering lacerations to its body the small aircraft spirals down to the road crash landing. In the field, scientists sometimes have to put themselves in dangerous situations like 30m up in close proximity to a territorial osprey.
Drones are being used by a range of scientists around the world. Helicopters, fixed wing and subs monitor the health of ecosystems, often operating in challenging or dangerous areas. I learned about the many ways an unassuming biologist could meet an early end in a paper by [D. Blake Sasse] “The methods used by early naturalists to obtain information and specimens were often dangerous.” Common causes of death included small airplane and helicopter crashes as well as motor vehicle accidents. Many of these deaths occurred under dangerous conditions where using an autonomous vehicle might have been safer.
Sasse, D.B. 2003. Job-Related Mortality of Wildlife Workers in the United States, 1937-2000. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 31(4): 1015–1020.
Averett, N. 2014. Drones take off as wildlife conservation tool. Audubon Website. Accessed February 10, 2016. Note: this story originally appeared in the July-August 2014 edition of Audubon Magazine as “Eyes in the Sky.”