Student Authors

Janine M. Barr '15, Gettysburg College

Megan E. Zagorski '16, Gettysburg College

Document Type

Conference Material

Publication Date


Department 1

Environmental Studies


Point and transect counts are the most common bird survey methods, but are subject to biases and accessibility issues. To eliminate some of these biases, we propose attaching a recorder to a consumer-grade quadcopter (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV) to estimate songbird populations from audio recordings. We conducted a blind experiment using broadcast recordings to estimate the detection radius of a compact recorder attached to a UAV, and found that the detection radius did not vary significantly when the UAV was flown at elevations of 20, 40 and 60m. We field tested our system by comparing UAV-based bird counts with standard point count surveys at 51 locations on State Game Lands 249, PA. Species richness was similar at standard and UAV point counts, but species composition differed. For most species, the number detections on UAV recordings were similar to standard counts, but UAV surveys under-sampled Mourning Doves Zenaida macroura, Gray Catbirds Dumetella carolinensis, and Willow Flycatchers Empidonax traillii. Birds with quiet or low frequency songs are likely to be under-detected by UAV-based methods, due to masking by the drone noise of the quadcopter. Recordings of bird songs from ground-based recorders show that bird song output was slightly reduced when the quadcopter was overhead. The development of quieter quadcopters would overcome the masking and the possible behavioral response issues that we highlighted. We demonstrate that low-cost UAVs provide a useful new method of surveying songbirds that is accessible to organizations and researchers with restricted budgets.


Presented at North American Ornithological Conference 2016, Washington DC, August 2016.

Additional Files

Barr, Zagorski - The Feasibility of Using Drones to Count Songbirds.pptx (16666 kB)
PowerPoint with Presentation Text