Date of Graduation

Spring 5-18-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM)


College of Arts and Sciences


Environmental Management

First Advisor

Amalia Kokkinaki


This study investigated the ethological response of avifauna to the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Proliferation of consumer, commercial, and military applications of UAS have provided environmental managers a new tool to use in their discipline. However, it has also promoted the need for critical examination of the effects UAS may have on existing natural resource practices, such as the management of avifauna populations. While this technology has largely been regarded as a beneficial new tool for efforts like wildlife population monitoring, it is not without potential effects to target species. This is particularly relevant to birds which share use of a common habitat feature with UAS operators – airspace. Research objectives for this project included: (1) determining how avifauna will respond to UAS operation, (2) quantify which taxonomic groups of birds have been exposed to UAS to-date, (3) identifying factors that influence the behavioral interaction, and (4) investigating the role of setback distance, or buffers, to mitigate any negative effects to birds. To accomplish this, I conducted a comprehensive literature review and metanalysis of the current body of literature reporting interactions between UAS and avifauna, distributed an original survey to US Department of the Interior Remote Pilots regarding their field observations of avifauna while flying UAS missions, and I investigated the regulatory framework for people or organizations who desire or are required to legally operate UAS within the proximate vicinity of bird species. My efforts concluded: (1) birds can respond mildly to severely, evasively or antagonistically, to the operation of UAS, (2) 87 bird species have been documented interacting with UAS as of early 2018, (3) factors of each interaction component [bird, drone, and environment] are all important variables in determining the type of reactions seen, and (4) as a general rule the implementation of a 100-meter buffer between avifauna and UAS operations should sufficiently avoid or mitigate any behavioral impacts (e.g., disturbance) to those target species. This research may serve to inform future research and regulatory mechanisms developed around the safe operation of UAS in tandem with good conservation practices for the avifauna that now shares airspace with human beings in a new way.