There is an inescapable truth about drones, they’re noisy. Those high-speed spinning blades cutting through the air make a combination of sounds that can be unpleasant to listen to. That is, unpleasant for us humans, have you ever considered what a drone sounds like to an animal?
Our partners at SoundGuys cover the best mobile audio gear for your listening pleasure, they’ve recently gone even deeper into sound. The new SoundGuys podcast is an auditory treat filled with the science and politics of sound.
For your listening pleasure, we were a guest on the SoundGuys podcast to talk about drones. The focus is on sound and how drones affect animals, but drone law sneaks in there, too.
See the post on SoundGuys here!
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Drones for good
There is no doubt that drones can be used for good. More specifically for our topic, putting a camera into the sky is a powerful tool to observe animal behavior in the wild. The downside to any observation technique is that it is very hard to not affect the object being observed – When it comes to putting a drone in the air in the middle of the forest, drone noise affects more than just the immediate subject, it can interrupt the entire forest.
Chris Thomas, Adam Molina and Lily Katz of SoundGuys invited myself and David Astorga to talk about this situation. David Astorga joined the show on his own behalf, but he is the Airport Operations and UAS Lead for the Oregon Department of Aviation.
If we had to sum up the entire show in one sentence, I’d say something like ‘Drones can be a danger for animals, in more ways than one, there are laws in place to protect wildlife, but all drone pilots should follow some best practices to ensure no animals are harmed by drones.’
The laws on animals and drones
Truth is, at least in the United States, there are no immediate laws that prohibit pilots from flying near animals. There are, however, plenty of laws that protect areas where animals are generally present.
The FAA is in charge of all of the airspace in the United States. They have strict no-fly rules surrounding many wildlife refuge areas across the country. Check the rules for each area, but for the most part, you’ll find no air traffic is allowed below 2000ft AGL (above ground level.)
That is about as far as the FAA takes it, the remainder of animal protections are on the ground. National Parks are no-fly zones, for example, and most States and municipalities have enacted drone law as well for parks and other public spaces.
Lastly, check with your area’s fish and wildlife agency for rules. In Oregon, at least, you can use a drone to scout for animals while hunting, bu then you are not allowed to hunt the area until 8 hours after your flight. This is the same rule as for manned aircraft – You can fly to scout, but you cannot hunt until at least 8 hours later.
Related reading: No Drone Zone! Places you cannot fly
Your rights and responsibilities
- The FAA is the only entity that can say where your drone can and cannot be in the air. Know your airspace rules.
- Your local and state police must respect you as a pilot, but trespassing is a crime that they can enforce in ground based no-drone areas.
- Regardless of the airspace and drone laws in your flight area, law enforcement can issue fines for disturbing the peace and reckless endangerment. Provisions exist under these laws for enforcement to confiscate your drone.
- Similar ‘disturbing the peace’ rules exist for parks and other wildlife areas not restricted by the FAA. A park ranger or fish and wildlife enforcement officer can issue a number of fines for harassing animals.
What about my dog?
At this time, there are no provisions for drone usage that protect your family pet. This is where best practice comes into play. You know your animal, is it terrified of the vacuum cleaner? Then it might be scared of a drone too.
I share a few of my drone and dog stories in the podcast, but the short takeaway is that I think you should condition dogs to a drone before you buzz above their head. Let them see it, then let them watch you turn it on and arm it. Letting the propellers spin while the drone has not yet left the ground is the safest time to see what your dog is going to do with the noise.
Once your dog appears comfortable with the drone, or is tucked safely back in the house, take off and enjoy your flight. Don’t forget to check out our ideas for best drone footage of animals.
There are so many ways researchers and conservationists can use drones to help wildlife, and animals are a very fun subject for photography. We urge you to think before you fly, there are very few situations where disturbing an animal is worth it to get that photo.
Please also keep in mind that animals may feel threatened and fight back. Birds and drones are already a known danger, but do you know how high a wild cat can jump? Look it up, you might be surprised, and you’ll certainly be sure to keep your drone a little higher off the ground if you fly near big cats again.
Do you have any drone and animal stories to share?