Editorial: Annapolis parks department flies drone over occupied osprey nest, then continues to set a terrible example on social media

Flying a drone near an osprey or any federally protected bird nest is against federal law – it’s considered harassment and can cause the birds to permanently leave their nest.

The city of Annapolis parks launched a drone, flew it over an osprey nest, posted a video of the birds, then tried to unsuccessfully to explain in the comments of the video why what they did wasn’t a problem.

This particular osprey nest has been at Truxtun Park for years – as in over a decade. In other words, it would be impossible for the city’s parks department not to know about the nest or be able to see birds occupying it.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency tasked with enforcing federal laws governing the protection of migratory birds, “The Airborne Hunting Act (16 U.S.C. 742j-1) and its regulations (50 CFR 19) prohibit the shooting or harassing of wildlife from any aircraft. The increasing use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS; also known as drones) for monitoring, scientific, and recreational purposes are governed by this regulation. UAS are considered aircraft, and the Act and regulation apply to intentional or unintentional harassment of migratory birds with them. Exceptions exist for certain State and Federal agency activities and permit holders (50 CFR 19.12).”

In a post titled, “Keeping Wildlife Safe From Drones,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states, “Drone use and other invasive human activities can cause breeding pairs to abandon nests for the season. This is an actionable offense that can result in heavy fines and even prison time.”

The parks department commented in their Facebook post, “While a drone was capturing footage in the area, it was discovered that the osprey nest was occupied as we were lowering the drone out of the sky.”

The video makes it clear the drone was not being lowered out of the sky but was focused fully on the ospreys.

That a parks department would fly a drone over an osprey nest during nesting season, then share the video publicly, then try to justify what they did seems to be lacking the environmental stewardship the public might expect from a city’s parks department.

Add to all of this, Annapolis was given the designation, “Bird City,” a fact highlighted by the city in a recent announcement which states, “Annapolis, a certified Bird City by Bird City Maryland, is dedicated to creating, protecting, and restoring bird habitat, with the Osprey as its official city bird.”

In other words, the city is dedicated to protecting bird habitat and has the osprey as its official bird, but the city’s parks department is harassing ospreys with a drone in one of the few parks within the city’s borders. Um, okay.

While the Annapolis parks department continues to set a poor example and leaves their video up on their social media, other cities have done the exact opposite – warned people not to use drones near osprey nests, reminded people of the laws protecting these birds and setting a good example.

Donna L. Cole is an award-winning investigative and multimedia reporter. She’s also a bird of prey rescuer.

Update (3/22/2024) – Per the Annapolis Recreation and Parks Department, after speaking with federal and state authorities, it was reportedly decided they did not break any laws, they did not harass the ospreys, until osprey season is over they will not be doing work in the area of the nest and the video was taken down. It was replaced with a still photo of someone wearing an osprey costume standing directly under the nest.

More information on this topic –

Flying Drones Pose Danger to Threatened Birds

Pilots Warned to Keep Drones Out of East Bay Parks

Maryland conservation group says drone pilot buzzed bald eagle nest in Pasadena

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