Two drone crashes at a nature reserve in Orange County, California, are being blamed for a colony of some 3,000 sea birds abandoning their nests.
According to wildlife experts at the Bolsa Chica Conservancy (not to be confused with the SpaceX launch site), the incident is believed to be one of the worst of its kind, with around 1,500 unhatched eggs being destroyed.
The birds involved were a colony of elegant terns, a species found along the Pacific coasts of Mexico and the southern US.
"A couple of weeks ago, thousands of elegant terns were lost when 2 drones crashed by Tern Island," the organisation noted in a Twitter post last week. "It is believed that the nesting terns left the eggs they were incubating in a response to the threat that the drones posed. This has never happened at such a large scale at the reserve."
According to local reports, the disruption to the birds' nesting habits was made worse when efforts to retrieve the drones caused further panic.
Interviewed on ABC7 news, Melissa Loebl, environmental scientist and reserve manager, told TV reporters: "In my career, I have never seen such devastation."
According to the New York Times, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has retrieved one of the downed drones and is seeking a warrant to allow it to be examined, in the hope of identifying its owner.
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Last year, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in Scotland warned that wintering water birds such as geese, swans and wading birds can easily be disturbed by drones.
In a series of experiments researchers flew drones towards flocks of birds in different habitats to observe their behaviour and see how they reacted to different threats.
The findings seemed to suggest that birds familiar with human activity were less likely to respond to being buzzed by drones.
Lead author David Jarrett said: "While we expected that the drone would cause large flocks to flush, we were surprised that birds hardly seemed to respond to the drone at all at those inland lochs where there was already lots of human activity taking place. Hopefully, this research can be used to help inform guidance and regulations on drone use in proximity to wild birds."
Last year, Vulture Central reported how a US Government drone mapping the shoreline of Lake Michigan was downed by an eagle seemingly unhappy at the digital intrusion. ®