Innovative Research: Delta Waterfowl Uses Drones and Thermal Imaging to Locate Nesting Ducks

by Jose
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Hi, this is Frank Rohr, I’m president and chief scientist for Delta waterfowl. What you, what you’re gonna see in this short video, is our initial testing of a drone mounted thermal infrared camera. We thought we could detect the heat signal of ducks on their nests by using a camera. The camera is mounted right there below the drone and it detects the heat signal of ducks, and what we wanted to do is test this thing with no nests initially. So we flew the drone at 150 feet elevation over known nests – and here we are – this is video from the thermal imagery and the red spots are hot spots.


Two people walking into a red spot a duck on a nest and there goes the female in this picture. You see a white spot and there goes a flushing female here again. The white spot in the center is the duck on the nest and soon you will see me I’m being directed by the drone pilots that are looking at imagery on their camera on the auto flap top, and there goes the flushing female here’s another nest dead center. A little hard to see, but that white spot dead center and I’m walking in from the top right – and in this case I believe I will get quite close to this female. I think this is a bluing teal nest we had marked and there I am walking in getting very close, very close, and there goes the female flushing very late.


We also happen to get video imagery of two Jackrabbits moving across the field, and this shows that there’s potential for this technique to be useful for surveying mammals, perhaps for detecting predators. The next bit of imagery is slow-motion because it happens so quickly. We’Re flying the drone at 50. Feet found that hot spot – it’s not big, but there goes a small bird. What we detected there was a Vespers sparrow nest and I’m directed right to a nest.


That is very small and very hard to find with traditional nest, searching techniques, and here we are with one last duck we’re walking in and you can see the hot spot in the center and again we get very close before this blowing teal flushes off her nests. So we’re able to detect mallards and blue ings, and here the drone found a hot spot prior to nest, searching in the traditional technique with two ATVs dragging a chain. The chain disturbs the vegetation. Bingo goes right over that nest. Flushes the female.


If you’re on the ATV, you have to mark that nest really well they’re very hard to find, but in this case the drone pilot just directs the person right to the nest. Because of this heat signal of the warm eggs. We think this technique has a great deal of potential. We found nine of nine known nests and then we flew the drone over an area that had been nest, searched with traditional methods and found several more nests, another half a dozen nests. So we think that has great potential and we will certainly expand our research and testing next year to a full, fledged project.


With that, we want to thank the following contributors who helped make this project possible: the mark, Paul Turk, trust and the Delta waterfowl chapters who contributed waterfowl heritage funds, including Greater Longview, North Houston, Smith, County heart of Texas, Lone Star Lyon, County and the Southeast Texas chapter And finally, we’d like to help thank Jason Douglas, who is involved in all aspects of this, from the original concept to the of the research and the fundraising and implementation. Thank you to everyone.

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