Using aerial infrared imagery to understand waterbirds’ spatial use of hot springs in winter

Authors: Justin White*, Utah Valley University, Haley Mills, Utah Valley University, Daren Nelson, Utah Valley University, David Johnson, Utah Valley University, Charles Memmott, Utah Valley University
Topics: Biogeography, UAS / UAV, Animal Geographies
Keywords: UAV, Spatial Ecology, Avian Behavior
Session Type: Virtual Poster
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 51
Presentation File: Download



Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (sUASs) greatly expand the potential to study wildlife. This is especially true regarding behavioral surveys in wildlands where observer biases and scientific take, in the form of human presence, impact results. Waterbird studies have currently used sUASs more than any other bird studies. Waterbirds tend to conspicuously aggregate in small open areas in remote habitats. Waterbird gatherings are highly sensitive to disturbance and can mob investigators. We combined sUASs technology with thermal infrared imaging to explore waterbird use of different temperature waters at the Saratoga Hot Springs inlet into Utah Lake, Utah. We recorded the inlet from 94 m altitude in the nadir view for 30 20-25 minute periods between January and March 2021. Footage was recorded using a Zenmuse X5s 15 mm (30 mm equivalent) visible camera and a Zenmuse XT2 R thermal imager (640×512 video) onboard a Matrice 210 V2. Ground-level weather conditions during our aerial imaging periods were recorded using a Kestrel 5500. We then calculated the amount of time that American Coots (Fulica Americana) and gulls (Laridae spp.) spent in various water temperatures and noted their behavior. Here we present the answers to the following questions: 1) Does time spent in certain temperature water relate to species, behavior, or weather conditions? 2) Do temperature thresholds exist for where birds are willing to stay for extended periods? 3) Do birds use the warmer water for thermal regulation as indicated by their time budget?

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