Drones predicted to play a huge role in future BC wildlife research
By Nick Eagland, The Province
When they’re not shooting picturesque footage of B.C.’s mountains and coast, drones are playing an important role in the future of its birds.
Dr. David M. Bird, emeritus professor of wildlife biology at McGill University, was one of seven speakers Saturday at BCIT’s Drone Fair 2016, which drew hundreds of unmanned-aerial vehicle (UAV) enthusiasts, advocates, vendors and pilots to the polytechnic institute’s Burnaby campus.
Bird told the Sunday Province that UAVs are helping researchers in B.C. safely get a birds-eye view of wildlife like never before.
“It’s game-changing technology for wildlife biologists,” said Bird, who lives in Victoria. “I think the possibilities are endless.”
Bird said he and his colleagues have used UAVs to peer into the nests of eagles and hawks to count their eggs and chicks. They’ve monitored colonies of water birds and seabirds on nesting cliffs.
They’re looking into using UAVs to scare “nuisance” birds away from places used by humans, such as Canada geese on golf courses and blackbirds snacking on experimental crops.
And they’ve been working to use a UAV mounted with a radio receiver and antenna to track song sparrows on the Gulf Islands.
Bird said UAVs are a blessing for those in his field because they’re much safer to deploy than manned helicopters and planes.
Indeed, a 2003 study by the Wildlife Society Bulletin found aviation accidents were responsible for two-thirds of the 91 recorded job-related deaths of wildlife biologists between 1937 and 2000.
Bird said his team is getting a handle on how to use UAVs without disturbing birds — or provoking them to damage expensive equipment.
“We have had one bird — an osprey — strike our drone,” Bird said.
“The osprey was fine but the drone suffered $2,000 (in) damages.”
Bird said Transport Canada is “going slowly” when it comes to regulating the use of UAVs because of the boom in UAVs being used by hobbyists.
But their widespread application in wildlife research is inevitable, he said.
“I think sometime in the next three to five years, it’ll be a common tool used by wildlife biologists all over the world to study wildlife.”.
Eric Edwards, past chairman of Unmanned Systems Canada, said there’s been rapid growth in the use of UAVs in research at all levels.
Edwards said academic researchers have been quick to adhere to Transport Canada’s regulations and get proper permits and training to use UAVs in the field.
“A lot of colleges and universities are doing this right now,” he said.
“The framework’s absolutely in place. They can do this legally, they can do this efficiently and effectively, and they’re getting good results.”