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


Date of this Version



Scientific Reports (2021) 11:21655



This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License,


A challenge that conservation practitioners face is manipulating behavior of nuisance species. The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) can cause substantial damage to aircraft if struck. The goal of this study was to assess vulture responses to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for use as a possible dispersal tool. Our treatments included three platforms (fixed-wing, multirotor, and a predator-like ornithopter [powered by flapping flight]) and two approach types (30 m overhead or targeted towards a vulture) in an operational context. We evaluated perceived risk as probability of reaction, reaction time, flight-initiation distance (FID), vulture remaining index, and latency to return. Vultures escaped sooner in response to the fixed-wing; however, fewer remained after multirotor treatments. Targeted approaches were perceived as riskier than overhead. Vulture perceived risk was enhanced by flying the multirotor in a targeted approach. We found no effect of our treatments on FID or latency to return. Latency was negatively correlated with UAS speed, perhaps because slower UAS spent more time over the area. Greatest visual saliency followed as: ornithopter, fixed-wing, and multirotor. Despite its appearance, the ornithopter was not effective at dispersing vultures. Because effectiveness varied, multirotor/fixed-wing UAS use should be informed by management goals (immediate dispersal versus latency).