Ornithology researchers from Gettysburg College put technology to the test, when they studied the effectiveness of drones as a means to assess songbird populations, and the machines were up to the task.
In a paper published in the journal The Auk: Ornithological Advances, the scientists reported on their recording of bird calls using pocket-sized digital recorders attached with fishing line to quadcopters.
Songbird surveys conducted by the team on game lands in Pennsylvania compared the counts acquired using the drones against traditional counts performed by surveyors on the ground.
The drones hovered and "listened" with the recorders, catching as many birds sounds as the recorder's "detection radius" would allow.
The ground surveys were performed using standard "point count" methods, in which observers count as many birds as they can see and hear at a given location over a set period of time.
Both methods were assessed at 51 locations.
According to the scientists, save for a few things the drones under-counted – mourning doves, with their low-pitched songs, were hard to pick up on audio; and there were too many gray catbirds to distinguish reliably – the two methods compared favorably.