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.