U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



2017. Pp. 71-73.


Proceedings of the 17th Wildlife Damage Management Conference. (D. J. Morin, M. J. Cherry, Eds).

This document is a U.S. government work and is not subject to copyright in the United States.


Animals respond to nonlethal forms of human disturbance using behavior strategies adapted to detect, avoid, and evade natural predators. This phenomenon suggests antipredator behavior can be exploited to optimize efficacy of wildlife management tools such as visual deterrents. According to models of antipredator theory, wildlife managers could encourage animals to abandon a resource patch in zones of human-wildlife conflict by enhancing perceived predation risk associated with disturbance stimuli. One human-wildlife conflict of interest is the economic loss and human safety hazards caused by birds. For example, blackbirds (Icteridae) pose a significant risk to the commercial aviation industry through bird strikes and to agriculture through crop predation. Several nonlethal frightening devices have been used in an attempt to reduce negative impacts of large blackbird flocks with varying effectiveness, thus the need for new or optimized tools remains. A promising tool in the field of wildlife damage management is the unmanned aircraft system (UAS), which provides a dynamic object able to overcome mobility limitations faced by other nonlethal deterrents. We intend to evaluate antipredator response of blackbirds toward two UAS platforms. We will compare a multirotor quadcopter UAS with a radio-controlled (RC) predator model. Current UASs show promise as precision agriculture tools and are easier to fly, but may not elicit an antipredator response due to lack of similarity with natural predators. We hypothesize that blackbirds will assess platforms with different intensities of perceived predation risk, and as a result, initiate flight at farther distances from the platform perceived as more threatening. Our objectives are to 1) compare the response of captive red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) to a multirotor quadcopter UAS and a RC predator model approaching at direct and overhead trajectories; and 2) approach wild flocks of red-winged blackbirds to gauge response of free-ranging birds toward both UAS platforms. The results of this study will help develop UASs as potential hazing tools to disperse and deter birds from areas of human-wildlife conflict (i.e., airports, agricultural areas, and municipalities).

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