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


Date of this Version



Crop Protection 117 (2019) 15–19


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



In response to a need for mitigating blackbird damage to crops, we evaluated the effectiveness of two unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones) to protect crops from blackbird damage. UAS are known to elicit behavioral and physiological responses in wildlife and have been proposed as a means to protect row crop agriculture from avian pest depredation. We evaluated the behavioral responses of captive and free-ranging red-winged blackbirds to a fixed-wing and a rotary-wing (multi-rotor, quadcopter) UAS by comparing preflight behaviors to behaviors during UAS approach. Due to the flight limitations of the respective UAS, the fixed-wing and rotarywing were evaluated at different altitudes. Behavioral responses of captive and free-ranging blackbirds to approaching UAS were categorized as no response, alertness, or attempted escape/flight. Neither captive nor freeranging flocks of red-winged blackbirds displayed behavioral responses to approaches by the fixed-wing UAS when flown at or above 52m above ground level (AGL). However, both captive and free-ranging flocks exhibited behavioral responses to the rotary-wing UAS when flown within 30m AGL. Behavioral responses of blackbirds to the rotary-wing UAS were more pronounced with lower altitude approaches. Our findings suggest that UAS have the potential to modify blackbird behavior in a way that may reduce sunflower crop depredation.

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