Using Drones for Inat

I have a DJI Mavic Air 2 drone that I use for leisure and occasionally, Inat. I would like to know if using a drone to scout out habitat, take photos otherwise impossible from the ground, get closer to an organism not clear by phone/camera; is ethical.
For example, is this photo of mine,, an inappropriate photo(in relation to the bird), or is it just a harmless satirical photo?


As long as you aren’t disturbing the animals any more than you would be on foot, I’d say have at it. There’s some contexts where a drone is worse than a person on foot (like the idiot who crashed one into a least tern nesting site here in southern California and caused thousands of terns to abandon their nest, or people who fly them over nesting snowy plovers and flush them). In general I’d say be careful with birds in particular, and don’t fly near any nesting ones for obvious reasons.

For stuff like scouting out habitat like you said or observing plants on cliffs, that sounds like an excellent idea!

Have fun with the legality of flying, though… I essentially gave up on using my drone years ago because the regulations are all over the place and constantly changing. It was incredibly frustrating that I could really never be sure I was actually obeying the law in any given place, and the outlandish general public opinion that goes between “don’t fly in a city because you’re spying on me” (when that could be done far more effectively with a cell phone that you wouldn’t even question?) to “don’t fly in the middle of nowhere because you’re disturbing the tranquility” (but OHVs and cars are ok?) didn’t help.


I think using drones is fine – except that drones seriously disrupt nesting birds. Be careful and absolutely positutely don’t use them near seabird colonies.


Not that I haven’t advertently/inadvertently harassed my share of Canada geese, and not to be too big a stick in the mud, but I wouldn’t condone using a drone to get close to wildlife like that for the purposes of making iNat observations. Not only could it be unethical (e.g. causing direct stress or indirect harm) but it could also be illegal (e.g. harassment of threatened/endangered species or migratory birds, violation of federal aviation regulations or public lands permitting requirements). Like people who play music without headphones on the trail, personally I find the sound of drones very annoying and they distract from my enjoyment of public spaces.


I’m not in favor of drones anywhere wild. Not only does it seriously affect some wildlife, it also absolutely ruins the nature connection moment for other humans out there who quite is being disturbed by the obnoxious buzzing sound. Don’t use them.


Drones are not allowed in our national parks. So that irritating noise is not something I have been forced to endure. We do use drones to monitor which shark is off the coast, and warn swimmers. Drone pilots trained and with permits


I think the best use for a drone is observing plants in hard-to-reach places like bluffs or tall trees. I’d definitely like to use one for scanning cliffs for sandstone endemics in my state.


i think aerial photos of things like big trees from a distance, or a group of dolphins from a distance, is probably the best use of aerial drones as they currently exist. the key there is distance, i think, since most drones are still quite noisy (although it’s better than it used to be), and they are a new type of thing that wildlife that encounter it would not have encountered before.

i wish there was such a thing as a balloon based drone that didn’t use helium (since we already have a shortage in the world) or was otherwise small enough for personal use. that would solve at least the noise issue, though not the problem of a strange object floating around in the air.

underwater drones might be relatively less impactful than aerial drones. iNat has a lot of bird observations but not as many observations of underwater creatures.


I would not use drones for observing animals without specific training and a clear purpose. There’s a lot of evidence that drones have negative impacts on animals (good pop sci summary here: Serious impacts are possible even for animals that the drone user doesn’t notice/isn’t intentionally targeting.

I do think that there are probably some acceptable uses for plants like those mentioned above (targeted surveys of cliff or otherwise inaccessible habitats, etc.). But even then, I’d want to do a lot of pre-flight research to make sure there weren’t any animals of concern that I might be impacting. And of course making sure to follow all relevant laws.


I personally really dislike hearing or seeing drones when I’m out on a hike and I imagine animals find them even more alarming. iNat is also really about one’s personal encounters with organisms, so I don’t think they’re a great fit for making observations. Trail cams are one thing (as far as I know they’re not particularly disruptive) and I don’t think drones fall into the same category.


Thanks for all the feedback. So it looks I might have to search for new habitat by bushwhacking and getting ticks.


This is a question I come across frequently in my work as we have a fair number of documentary filmographers coming to document our work and the species we are working with. In recent years asking drones have become on the standard tools they bring, and they’re always asking about using the drones to get close to our focal species as they live on a steep cliff habitat.

Generally speaking we limit drone use to landscape shots and looking at otherwise inaccessible areas. If people were more interested in the plants I’d authorize drone use for those too, but everyone is interested in the animals.

Drones do have a place when it comes to wildlife monitoring (note I say monitoring rather than photography), but as many animals are easily disturbed by things tron the air (think large birds going after young animals and you can see why this is the case even for large animals), it’s best to keep drone use far enough away from wildlife that it doesn’t disturb it.

The distance where an animal will be disturbed varies quite a bit, but as a rule of thumb nesting birds, animals with young, and animals preyed upon by birds of prey should all be avoided.

Here are some resources, both academic and non-academic from conservation organizations, birding organizations, and photography organizations:


i think drones can be super useful for botany. in particular, they can provide a missing link between validated up-close species IDs and appearance from aboves. For example: if we had hundreds of photos of specific trees species from above, validated on the ground, somebody could potentially use this dataset to train ML models that would generate large-scale tree censuses from aerial and satelite imagery. (They’re probably already doing so – but I imagine adding to the training data would be very, very helpful!)

When I lived in Manhattan, somebody produced a map of every tree in Central Park. In retrospect, I really with I’d collected some contemporary aerial shots of central park and lined them up, seeing how the hundreds of different trees responded to weather and the changing seasons on (potentially) a day-by-day basis.


Oh, the human sense of entitlement. The reason they live on a steep cliff is because they don’t want you to get close.

In the United States, I know that drones are prohibited in Wildlife Refuges.


Personally I think drones can be quite disruptive for animals, eg. distubring bird nests, disturbing predator in the middle of hunting prey. One upside I can see with using drones is to document plants growing in inaccessible places eg. at the edge of a cliff.


In my opinion that photo is extremely unethical (and frankly makes me very upset) for several reasons.

  1. That bird is clearly agitated as a result of the proximity of the drone. If you are frightening wildlife, even Canadian geese, you are being unethical.
  2. It’s a Canada goose. They are not difficult to photograph in any number of other places. There was no need at all to go anywhere near it with a drone.
  3. This photo displays a disrespect for wildlife. It being posted here could easily lead other to believe that this behaviour is acceptable. As aggressive and bothersome as these geese can be, they’re living creatures that are just trying to adapt to and exist in a world that’s been, in many places, catastrophically altered. We’ve created places that are ideal for them to raise their young and then are shocked when those geese want to be in that space.

As regards using drones in other places… if a human being can’t access somewhere by their own physical means, maybe they just weren’t supposed to be there. Places like that are often some of the most delicate and sensitive habitats and the creatures that live there are likely trying to avoid threats like humans. Just because we can find them, doesn’t mean we should go to them, and I believe the only exception to that is trained researchers who know the best way to exist in that place while doing the least amount of damage. We have taken over so much space in this world, pushed wildlife into smaller and smaller habitats; is it really so hard to accept that you just don’t get to see everything?


Outlandish opinion, eh? Your cell phone can access the window of any room or apartment no matter how many stories above ground level? And fly over people’s fenced backyards? Sorry, everyone, this is straying off-topic–but I just had to comment.


Hey all, please stay on topic and discuss the original questions.

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