We often see these robotic contraptions flying over Bay Area parks. Although drones may seem benign, there is accumulating evidence that their mere presence causes direct harm to birds and negatively impacts surrounding wildlife and human populations.

Around Christmas time 2019, a Red-tailed Hawk was killed by a drone in San Francisco’s Dolores Park. The San Francisco Chronicle featured a story about this tragic incident, alerting the general public to the very real danger drones present to birds. 

How else do drones hurt birds? 

  • They disrupt nests: When drones are flown too close to rookeries or bird nests, the noise and unfamiliar presence of a drone could drive adult birds away. This can lead to neglect or abandonment of vulnerable eggs and chicks, reducing the breeding success of sensitive bird populations.
  • Drones provoke attacks: Some birds, particularly raptors, are very territorial about their nesting areas, and if drones are perceived to be a threat, the birds may attack the remote vehicles. This diverts the parent birds from caring for their hatchlings, foraging or otherwise tending to their own survival needs. Birds that attack drones could also be injured by moving blades or other parts of the equipment.
  • They scatter leks: Birds that congregate on leks (area where birds gather during the breeding season) for courtship displays can be particularly sensitive to disturbances, and if a drone appears to be a flying predator, the birds may scatter prematurely. This can drastically impact their ability to find suitable mates, and if the lek is not revisited, it may take generations for birds to find and begin using another suitable site with the same success.
  • They interrupt feeding: If a drone disturbs a foraging bird, the bird may abandon a good food source and be forced to seek less abundant or nutritious resources. This type of disruption can have a catastrophic impact on overall bird populations, as malnourished birds do not breed as successfully or raise as many healthy chicks.
  • Drones cause midair collisions: It is possible that a drone could inadvertently fly into a flock of birds or otherwise collide with birds, causing severe injuries. While there have not yet been any reported instances of accidental midair collisions — birds colliding with drones as they attack are a different type of impact — as drone use rises, this risk also increases.

Click here to read more about the dangers of drones. 

How can you report drone incidents in public parks?

  • For the East Bay: Contact the East Bay Regional Parks District here. There are various ways to file a report, from filing online to making a direct telephone call. Please call the Public Safety Dispatch number: (510) 881-1833
  • In San Francisco: Park Code Section 3.09, prohibits “apparatus of aviation” without a permit or permission from the Recreation & Park Department. In fact, the Department does not provide permits for recreational use of drones due to the impact on the public and wildlife. Because this is an urban area, there are significant safety concerns about the effects on other park users. Drone use is presently restricted to authorized agencies. In the future, if you see recreational drones being operated at any SF Rec and Park property, feel free to report it to Park Ranger headquarters at: (415) 242-6390

How are other organizations helping curtail illegal drone activity?

  • Port of San Francisco: The Port intends to put up signage at Herons Head Park alerting the public of illegal drone activity. Additionally, as of early 2020, the Port will begin educating the personnel at the Herons Head Park EcoCenter about the policy to help enforce anti-drone regulations.
  • The FAA: Not only can drones disturb wildlife, they can endanger general aviation aircraft. These incursions into general aviation airspace are taken very seriously by the FAA. Drone operators have to pass a written test and carry a FAA operating license. The FAA recently issued a warning about new strict penalties for violating restrictions on drone flying. It’s a good idea to report incidences to the FAA and to local authorities so that they are aware of the frequency of the violations. The FFA official statement is as follows: “The FAA encourages the public to report unauthorized drone operations to local law enforcement and to help discourage this dangerous, illegal activity.”

Our information has been sourced from The Spruce, The San Francisco Chronicle, EBRPD and SF Parks & Rec.