West Coast
Wade Sedgwick

CA - Drones allow scientists a bird’s-eye view of seabird colonies

Just picture it.You, standing at the top of a steep slope blanketed by seabirds.The seemingly endless mass of black-browed albatrosses and penguins create a patchwork quilt of white, brown and black with pops of orange leading down to the choppy blue waters of the Atlantic.

Just picture it.

You, standing at the top of a steep slope blanketed by seabirds.

The seemingly endless mass of black-browed albatrosses and penguins create a patchwork quilt of white, brown and black with pops of orange leading down to the choppy blue waters of the Atlantic.

You traveled by air and sea to hike the rugged terrain in this particular spot in the Falkland Islands, this place cluttered by the noise of the albatrosses’ calls.

You made it. Now, start counting.

This boots-on-the-ground method has for decades been the traditional way in which wildlife biologists count seabird colonies, large and small.

But the use of drones paired with emerging software technology is starting to change that, affording biologists a means of more quickly and accurately monitoring large seabird populations, a job researchers point out is important because these populations help, among other things, detect changes in the environment.

“Being able to very quickly and easily get that perspective from above really changes the situation,” said Dr. David Johnston. “At that point in time you see every single bird that’s there and there are a lot of places where you just can’t do that.”

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