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Unmanned Aircraft Systems as a Powerful Tool to Detect Fine-Scale Spatial Positioning and Interactions between Waterbirds at High-Tide Roosts

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The surveillance of behavioral interactions between individuals in bird populations is important to understand social dynamics and explain distribution patterns caused by competition for food and space. For waterbirds, little is known about interactions between individuals at high-tide roosts. In the present study, we used surveying with unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) to provide enhanced information on previously hidden aspects of the highly dynamic communities of roosting waterbirds in the non-breeding season. Fine-scale density estimations, derived from aerial photos obtained with UASs, were used as a measure to explain intra-and inter-species interactions for 10 selected waterbird species on a major roost site in the Danish Wadden Sea. Uniquely defined density distributions were detected, which, to some degree, were dependent on species and species size, with smaller waders exhibiting densely packed flocks (e.g., dunlin Calidris alpina and golden plover Pluvialis apricaria), whereas larger species, such as ducks and geese (Anatidae) exhibited lower densities. Multi-species flocks were observed to occur frequently (31.9%) and generally resulted in lower densities than single-species flocks for each of the species involved. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that UAS aerial photos can be used both to assess positions for roosting waterbirds and to classify habitats (i.e., mudflats, vegetated areas, waterline, and flooded areas) during high-tide. This facilitated the collection of precise data for temporal habitat choices for individual species when using the studied roost site. Our study highlights UAS surveys as an effective tool to gather hitherto unobtainable data for individual occurrences of roosting waterbirds on a spatiotemporal scale.

Original languageEnglish
Article number947
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

    Research areas

  • choice of roosting habitat, competitive behavior, density distributions, drone, ducks, flock structure, geese, inter-species interactions, spatiotemporal positioning, waders

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