Conservation

8 Ways to Keep Birds from Colliding with Drones

And buildings, and airplanes, and wind turbines—there’s a lot in our sky to contend with.

Ever since the Wright Brothers launched their first rickety airplane over a century ago, humans have continued to take to the skies. Our relatively newfound abilities may be inspired by birds, but human flight can clash—and, in some cases, collide—with birds (thousands are killed by planes every year.) The collisions also cost more than $900 million a year in damages in the U.S. alone. And now that drones are becoming commonplace—flying for sport, science and possibly package delivery—we’re taking over the airspace more than ever before, say scientists from Argentina and the U.K. in a new paper in Science.

The paper offers a few tips—some new, some old—on how we can better look out for our skymates.

  1. Track how birds move at home. “Currently, more is known about the routes taken by migrating animals that cross continents than those taken by animals in parks or towns,” write the authors. Data on how birds and other flying animals (like bats) move on the small scale will help reveal hazards—and solutions.     

  2. Use this information to pick better airport locations. Once we know more about how birds use the sky, the authors say, we’ll need to employ a “conservation-focused use of the ground beneath.” This applies especially to the construction of new airports, as most bird-airplane run-ins happen during takeoff and landing.

  3. Put visual markers on windows. Every year, 600 million birds die colliding with glass. Windows with patterns already help thwart some of the tragic run-ins.

  4. Remove dead birds from wind farms. Some 200,000 birds die colliding with wind turbines. The problem increases when the bodies lure scavengers to the area—and put those birds at risk as well.

  5. Use ultraviolet light to make airborne objects more noticeable. Scientists have found that mounting lights on an aircraft alarms birds and deters them from danger. Since birds can see UV lights, but humans cannot, they make for unobtrusive additions to aircrafts and architecture.

  6. Turn off wind turbines when birds pass through. Radar can spot a pack of migrating birds coming from a couple miles away, so shutting down turbines to let them pass could save avian lives. It’s a more experimental solution, but there are already a handful of the systems up and running.

  7. Reduce light pollution. It disorients birds who migrate at night, making their movements erratic increases likelihood of collisions.

  8. Establish protected airspace. There are protected areas on the ground, so why not in the sky?  “The conservation of migratory birds has historically been focused on the ground (breeding, wintering, and stopover areas),” write the authors.  If we protected the airspace where the most collisions happened, we could prevent a lot of conflict.

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