As costs go down and ease of use goes up, more and more drones are going to enter American skies. Last month, the Federal Aviation Authority reported an increase in drones spotted near other aircraft, raising fears that an errant drone may imperil a manned airplane. But drones don’t just pose a risk to human-made aircraft. They can also threaten birds.
In May, the National Park Service banned drones from Yosemite National Park, specifically noting that “drones can have negative impacts on wildlife nearby the area of use, especially sensitive nesting peregrine falcons on cliff walls.” In June, this ban was extended beyond Yosemite to all national parks. Not long after, a tourist crashed a drone into the otherwise-pristine waters of Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring, reinforcing the risk posed by the technology if used irresponsibly.
As more artificial flyers enter the skies, they threaten to disrupt ancient patterns and habits of raptors — but what if it were possible to turn the tide. Falcons have existed for millions of years, while drones barely stretch back a century. Furthermore, humans have been training falcons since antiquity, and the birds were widespread enough in Europe by the dark ages that “sixth-century laws of the various Germanic tribes mention fines for the theft or killing of someone else’s hawk.“ Is it possible that, with human guidance, birds could learn to defeat the new unmanned interlopers in their airspace?
“The practical reason for why anyone would want to do that is beyond me,”Joey Seabolt, president and director of the Georgia Falconry Association, told Popular Science. “There have been encounters with wild birds with those kinds of devices that are dangerous to the wild animal and the equipment. You certainly wouldn’t want to train a bird to do that.”
Other falconers agreed. Roger Chastain, president of the Indiana Falconers Association, said:
I most certainly wouldn’t advocate anything that could result in the injury of a bird, and there’s that possibility. My guess is that they’d probably be fine, from what little I know of quadcopters they have tiny little propellers that seem clumsy and flexible, so my guess is that the bird would be okay, but again that’s my very limited understanding of quadcopters and I emphasize very limited, and it’s probably not something that’s worth the risk anyway.