$5,000 reward offered for information on drone crash in Bolsa Chica bird reserve

Eggs are abandoned in the sand
Thousands of eggs were abandoned on a nesting island at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach after a drone, prohibited in the area, crashed and scared off the would-be parents.
(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

The Animal Legal Defense Fund announced Thursday a reward of $5,000 for information on the person or people who operated a drone that crashed-landed in May into nesting grounds at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach.

About 3,000 elegant terns — notable for their orange bills and black crests — fled the reserve after the crash in mid-May. They left behind 1,500 to 2,000 unsavable eggs, the largest abandonment that scientists who work there could remember.

The operators of drones that fly over state wildlife preserves and disturb habitats can face charges for nest destruction and harassment of wildlife, according to Officer Nick Molsberry of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


Tim Daly, a spokesperson for the agency, said that he had no knowledge of the drone operator in the Bolsa Chica incident having been identified or of the birds having returned to the reserve, which spans more than 1,000 acres.

Some 3,000 elegant terns fled the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve after the May 12 crash, in the largest egg abandonment scientists who work there can recall.

“We don’t have any new developments to report, it’s still under investigation,” he said.

The same week of the crash, another drone went down in Bolsa Chica near nesting sites. But in that case, the drone operator came forward and received a citation.

“Sanctuaries, like Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, are established so that wildlife have a safe place — away from urban sprawl, light pollution, and other human interference — to thrive in natural conditions,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s executive director, Stephen Wells, said in a statement. “The blatant disregard for the law, and well-being of these birds and their offspring, is a concern we should all share.”