A Drone Crash on Protected Wetland Left 1,500 Eggs Abandoned

On May 13, an illegally flown drone crashed on the nesting grounds at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach, California. This isn’t the first time a drone has crashed in the protected wetlands. This time, it coincided with the breeding season for thousands of terns, and as a result, the birds abandoned their nests, thinking it was a predator.

The NY Times article shows a photo of the downed drone, and it looks to be the new DJI Air 2S. Left behind are the estimated 1,500 unhatched eggs, and so far, no one has come forward to claim the drone. Another drone crashed on the same day in a different area, but those birds returned. The FAA has released multiple revisions to commercial and recreational drone laws in recent years, but there is still no official regulation about flying over protected wildlife areas.

The USDA does stipulate that flyers should not harass wildlife during breeding seasons unless it’s for approved scientific study, but other than that, there isn’t a clear federal guideline or restriction. Oddly enough, the page this is found on is under fire management with the title "Tips for Responsible Recreational Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) on National Forest Systems Lands." This isn’t stated in the current FAA regulations. The Bolsa Chica wetlands have an in-place no-fly zone, but only have three service members to manage the 1,300-acre preserve. The second drone that crashed was claimed, and the owner was cited, but that’s the limit of what can be enforced at present. 

The first successful drone to come to mass market was the Parrot AR Drone in 2010, but more than a decade later, the laws about drone usage in the U.S. are still unclear.

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16 Comments

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Terns are not that great parents, it seems…

David Illig's picture

You don’t know much about avian reproductive strategy, it seems.

J.d. Davis's picture

Explain...

David Illig's picture

Sure. Terns appear in the fossil record from the Miocene (about 23.03 to 5.333 million years ago). Only a species that is skilled at parenting can survive that long. Of course, no species is safe from the apex predator that is the only species to have developed stupidity.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

And something with annoying noise that falls by may make hundreds of them abandon their eggs?

Tammie Lam's picture

If that’s a joke - it’s not funny. Lots of birds may leave their nests if they feel danger.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Lots. But I’m really unsure about hundreds of them scared that much by black thingie falling from the sky and then 2 men coming for that thingie.

Kevin Harding's picture

This frankly is BS and has been doing the rounds for a while now.

Whilst the drone could have caused a few birds to take to the air, and maybe those closest not to return, 3,000 nests abandoned due to the drone? Utter BS as any birder (I am a birder) will tell you. The nests very close to the crashed drone ... perhaps, because the drone was still in the proximity, but those further away? Not a chance.

That said the drone owner absolutely should be punished to the full extent of the law.

However the more likely causes (if the original photo not shown above, doesn't just show a moment in time when all birds took to the air, and not abandoned nests) are actually listed in the link given in the original article :

According to reserve manager Melissa Loebl : “We’ve seen a significant increase in dogs, particularly off-leash,” Loebl said. “That’s devastating for wildlife and this is prime nesting season. The dogs chase the birds and the birds abandon their nests.”

Another problem is the development of multimillion-dollar homes on the hillside at the north end of the reserve overlooking the wetlands, said Fish and Wildlife warden Nick Molsberry. While most residents respect the sensitive nature of the estuary, there are a few scofflaws, he said.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

Interesting and relevant comments here that were missing from earlier info that I read on this on DPReview!

Tom Reichner's picture

I think that if you fly in areas that are illegal to fly in, it would behoove one to make sure that there are no fingerprints left on the drone, and that the drone is purchased used from an untraceable source, such as a private sale from a Craigslist ad. That way, if your drone crashes in an illegal area, and you are not able to retrieve it, it will not be likely to be traced back to you.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

I know from your earlier comments on this site you are a wildlife photographer....
I hope these comments here do not mean you are promoting irresponsible behaviour towards treatment of wildlife and nature?

Tom Reichner's picture

Of course I am not encouraging any harassment of wildlife. Just thinking that if someone ends up crashing an expensive drone, and is unable to retrieve it, then it is already bad enough to lose that kind of investment. Wouldn't want things to get even worse for the unlucky fellow had have him have to deal with fines and prosecution, as well.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

Well, you could say that perhaps at that point, they perhaps kinda deserved the prosecution, fines, etc?

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Sounds like a plan…

Don’t forget about paying cash only. Small notes.

Mutley Dastardly's picture

I do hope the drone-owner can be traced be juged, and when found guilty - he may be jailed in as harsh as possible conditions for as long as possible. You can exterminate animals with actions like these.
As a nature photographer there's one rule that rules them all - when you disturb the wildlife - you don't take the image, you leave.
In fact drones should not even be capable of flying in those areas - by protected zones - by strong and strict regulations. Where are the law-makers when we need them?

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

1500 eggs? I also read 3000 eggs (first 2000 but later revised to 3000) eggs destroyed as a result of the same. :(