Drone pilots are aiding waterfowl researchers in North Dakota.
“The goal was to prove the feasibility of identifying duck nests with an infrared camera on a drone,” ISight Co-Founder Adam Lingwall said.
The above video shows birds sitting on their nests can be picked up by the aircraft’s infrared thermal camera. As the birds fly from their nest, body heat is left behind on their eggs and drone pilots are able to direct researchers to those heat signatures.
ISight’s aircraft flew 50 to 150 overhead while researchers walked the ground below.
Amid the ducks and jackrabbits that appeared in the video, the camera also managed to pick up the nest of a vesper sparrow. Though typically 5 to 6 inches long, the small songbird created a hotspot on the thermal camera, allowing pilots to lead researchers to its nest.
“I’m directed right to a nest that is very small and very hard to find with traditional nest searching techniques,” Delta Waterfowl President Frank Rohwer says in the video.
Traditional nest searching methods include tying a chain between two ATVs and riding through a field to flush birds from their nest in order to mark the locations.
Adding unmanned aircraft to the mix could make research less time consuming.
“This technique has great potential to help researchers locate duck nests in cover that is tough to search,” Rohwer said in a statement. “It could make duck research more efficient.”
Delta Waterfowl is a conservation group with headquarters in Bismarck and Winnipeg that works to preserve duck hunting. The organization said in a news release it plans to refine and use the technique for ongoing duck research.