Drone Disturbance During Swift Watch

PORTLAND, Ore. — On Friday, September 8, Bird Alliance of Oregon staff and volunteers witnessed a drone being flown during Swift Watch, the beloved annual event where people gather to watch thousands of Vaux’s Swifts funnel into Chapman Elementary’s chimney. The swifts were observed reacting to the drone by breaking formation, dispersing, and on one occasion, appearing to chase the drone as if it were a raptor.

Vaux's Swifts at Chapman at dusk

Wildlife, particularly birds, can perceive drones as a threat and there is a lot of documentation in the scientific literature indicating they negatively alter wildlife behavior and cause undue stress. The Chapman Elementary School chimney is a vital roosting site for Vaux’s swifts used by tens of thousands of swifts every fall during migration. They are a bird of conservation concern and are sensitive to disturbances including from drones. Using drones near the chimney has resulted in clear signs of stress to the swifts including altering their behavior as they prepare to enter the chimney.  We respectfully ask recreational drone users to not fly at the Chapman chimney after 4 p.m. during migration (Aug. 15 – Oct 15).  Harassing native wildlife is illegal and protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

For further information, please contact Joe Liebezeit, Assistant Director of Statewide Conservation at (503) 329-6026 or jliebezeit@birdallianceoregon.org.