Counting Sandhill Cranes can be a real challenge. How do you estimate the number of birds that gather by the thousands each evening? A new technology has great potential to help.
Enter the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) – a technology you might better know as a drone.
First, a bit of background. The Nature Conservancy has been demonstrating how a working farm can be managed to support migratory birds for more than a decade at Staten Island in California’s Bay Delta.
Millions of migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway depend on the Central Valley and Delta as an important stopover during spring and fall migration, as well as vital overwintering habitat.
We conduct bird counts to determine how the birds are responding to our management of the island’s resources.
The Sandhill Crane is a special focus of our work but it can be challenging to get good estimates of how many cranes are sleeping and foraging on Staten Island.
At the end of a day foraging in the surrounding landscape, the cranes congregate in large numbers each evening and settle down for the night, all packed together in fields that the Conservancy intentionally floods — providing their preferred roosting habitat of 6-12 inches of water.
The scenery and sounds are primal at sundown in the Delta, with thousands of birds flying in to these fields.