Westport official warns drones are harmful to birds nesting at Compo Beach

Photo of Amanda Cuda
An American oystercatcher

An American oystercatcher

Scott Kruitbosch / Roger Tory Peterson Institute /

WESTPORT — The town’s conservation director Alicia Mozian issued a notice on Thursday imploring people to stop flying drones near birds’ nests at Compo Beach, warning that the machines can endanger the birds’ safety.

“The bird thinks the drone is a predator, and wants to attack it,” Mozian said, adding that the battle between bird and drone is often not a fair fight.

She said she knows of least one incident in which an American Oystercatcher — one of the birds making its nests at the beach — cut its leg on a drone and was seriously injured. The Oystercatcher is one of two species of birds at the beach that are listed on the Connecticut and federal threatened species list. The other is the piping plover.

Both species are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and disturbing their nests is punishable by law, with penalties including a fine of up to $20,000.

The area of Compo Beach where the bird species are nesting has been cordoned off to help protect them as they grow their families.

Compo is not the only place where drones have been apparently disturbing the birds. It has been a problem at Sandy Point in West Haven and other spots as well, said Elizabeth Amendola, coastal program coordinator for Audubon Connecticut.

She said that drones have become more popular, particularly in the last year or so, which she at least partially attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Anyone witnessing a drone over one of the nest sites is encouraged to call the Westport Police Department and/or report it to a Compo Beach Weststaff member.

“People are getting outside and enjoying the outdoors more,” Amendola said. “Drones are one way to do that.”

Mozian said she understands why observing the breeding habits of the birds might appeal to local drone photographers.

“They’re interested in watching the birds’ behavior and the evolution of them nesting, laying on the eggs and watching them hatch,” she said.

But the flying machines are hazardous to the birds, she said, and not just because they can cause injuries.

“It just scares them away,” Mozian said. “They abandon their nest and their eggs. I know they don’t want to harm the birds, but they need to be made aware their actions are causing an adverse impact.”

Amendola echoed those thoughts. “Just give the birds their space,” she said.