Drones are being used to haze birds away from the Berkeley Pit

Posted at 2:49 PM, Nov 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-12 16:49:53-05

(BUTTE) By air and water, officials are using any means to avoid what happened at the Berkeley Pit in November 2016 when more than 10,000 migrating snow geese landed on the toxic water, leaving thousands to die.

Montana Resources recently hired a drone operator to try to haze birds out of the water.

“We’ve made some significant modifications to it for hazing of waterfowl at the Berkeley Pit. We’ve added extra radio antennas to it, we’ve added flashing strobe lights with visibility of three nautical miles, and loud, audible piezoelectric sirens that produce an ear-piercing sound that the birds are uncomfortable with,” said drone operator Ian Fairweather.

Montana Resources also hired a contractor from Atlantic Richfield who built a remote-controlled boat that can quickly get to waterfowl in the pit.

“The intent is to get up close enough that they can hear it, show the size, let them hear the sound and start to get them agitated, then maneuver to try to get them to lift up off the water,” said Jim Jonas with Atlantic Richfield.

During a demonstration, they actually had some waterfowl land in the pit. There were two snow geese and a couple of common goldeneye. They used the drones to chase these birds around, which proved to be a bit stubborn, but they eventually were able to get one of the snow geese to fly out of the contaminated water.

“They’re very tired. They’re a night migrater; we harassed them a little bit, we didn’t get a result, so we just need to back off and let them rest,” said bird expert Gary Swant.

But they will keep trying so they don’t have a repeat of 2016.

  • Reported by John Emeigh

(DECEMBER 2, 2016) Why did so many geese land in the Berkeley Pit in Butte this week, and what will happen to them?

More than 10,000 migrating snow geese landed in the Berkeley Pit earlier this week and although this man-made pit is filled with toxic water from decades of copper mining, to geese it looks like a great place for a pit stop.

“They find these open water sources and they’re like a safe space for them, it’s where they rest, they can get away from predators, so the Berkeley Pit represents one of those great spaces,” Montana Tech assistant professor Dr. Stella Capoccia explained.

But it’s not so great. The pit water is highly acidic and can be deadly if the birds consume too much of it, like in 1995 when more than 300 geese died after landing in the pit.

“Reports from the last time the geese landed suggest that actually it resulted in an electrolyte imbalance, or course the acidity can’t be good for them, but it would be much like us drinking marine water, if you’re stuck on a raft and you’re thirsty and you drink marine water, that salt in the marine water can ruin our electrolytes,” Capoccia said.

Montana Resources has a mitigation plan in place to keep waterfowl out of the pit and crews have been able haze thousands of the geese off the water this week, but hundreds still remain.

They’ve confirmed some of the birds have died, but do not have a total as of Thursday. Fortunately, from a conservation standpoint, there’s an overpopulation of snow geese.

“Snow geese are very well populated. It’s terrible to watch an animal die that kind of death, you never want to see that kind of animal suffer, but as a population concern that’s not a major factor,” Capoccia said.

Montana Resources have used noise makers, gunshots and even flying drones to scare the birds out of the pit and will continue their hazing efforts this week.