If you click a link on this page and make a purchase we will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Flying drones at night is not illegal. It can, however, pose several risks and raise questions. An example is what happened late last year in Colorado and Nebraska. Several residents noticed unmanned drones flying over their neighborhood, and on contacting the authorities, they couldn’t identify who was controlling them.
It is relatively easy to spot drones during the day. However, come nightfall, it gets harder to spot drones in the dark skies.
That is not only mysterious but also creepy. At the same time, not every drone that buzzes over your house may be spying on you.
Tips to spot a drone at night
Check the lights
When you can’t identify a flying object, its lights can help you determine whether it’s a drone. Prosumer drones like DJI and Syma come with a native lighting system. They are known as navigation lights. The other set of lights that the Federal Aviation Administration requires every drone to have is the anti-collision light. The distinction between the two is their regularity and color of light.
- Navigation lights– Navigation lights are solid, non-strobe lights that are red, green, or white. They are mainly used to show the operator where the drone is going. Operators can use more than one color as it is not compulsory to use one color at a time. Most of the manufacturers include them in the quad’s system. That means that you don’t have to install them when you have a typical drone. Navigation lights may not appear very strong in the evening and aren’t visible in the daylight. For operators that want to pilot their drones at night, they have to install anti-collision lights.
- Anti-collision lights– Unlike navigation lights, spotting anti-collision lights are easier to spot at night. That could be because they blink like stars as they move. Anti-collision lights come in either red or white. When it comes to strobes, operators can pick from more advanced options like fast strobe, slow strobe, and constant light. This feature is sometimes pre-installed in the unit, but other times you need to buy it as an add-on.The FAA requires that drones have this type of light. Especially those who plan to use their drones for different purposes and reasons. As defined by FAA, the night is any time between the end of the Evening Civil Twilight and the start of the Morning Civil Twilight. Evening Civil Twilight is between 30 minutes and an hour after sunset, and Morning Civil Twilight is the period between thirty minutes and an hour before sunrise.
Listen to the sounds
Another indicator that the object flying around could be a drone is the sound that comes with it. Drones have a distinct sound. If coupled with a blinking or solid colored light, its buzz will have the drone betray itself. It is important to note that this sound is quieter than the ones used by older versions.
If it is your first time dealing with drones, you can check out several videos on YouTube or use a gadget called DroneShield. From the whirring, DroneShield can identify the approaching drone model and send an alert via text. That can be useful to security personnel or people flying their drones at night.
Five ways of spotting a drone at night
As we established before, not all drones being operated at night necessitate acting out of fear. However, we must look into ways of spotting a drone at night so you can use these methods to protect yourself against invasive drones.
Drone Detector App
Nowadays, there is indeed an app for everything. An aviation company known as DeTech Inc. developed an app that can turn your phone into a Drone detector. The app is straightforward to use. Most, if not all drones communicate with their pilots using encrypted signals. Any Wi-Fi device easily catches these encrypted signals mid-air. The Drone Detector App can compare the unique signature with a database to ascertain whether it originates from a drone.
With the Drone Detector App, when a drone is within half a mile from your smartphone, the app will notify you about the possible intrusion.
The app can’t detect drones that are using encrypted communication like most modern DJI drones.
It is ineffective against drones that don’t use Wi-Fi signals.
Night vision cameras with motion detection
You can quickly set up this option and put it in place without needing any specialized equipment. As earlier mentioned, all drones have lights. FAA makes it compulsory for drones that are being flown at night to have anti-collision lights. If you set up night-vision cameras and couple them with motion detection software, the drone’s anti-collision lights will give it away. Most home security cameras come fitted with motion detection features, so it is easy to set up.
Microwave motion sensors
Another solution that will solve your nosy drone problem and is also easy on your pockets is installing microwave motion sensors around your house. If installed on top of each window or glass panel around your house, they can act as your night watchman.
How they operate
The sensor emits microwaves that are reflected by objects in its field of view. Whenever a drone enters this field of view, it reflects the waves. However, due to its relative motion, the drone slightly shifts the reflected wavelength due to a Doppler Effect phenomenon.
Cool radio trick
This method isn’t as practical as the other three for detecting a drone, but it is an innovative way of knowing if there is a drone looking through your window.
How it works
Imagine that a drone is hovering outside your house and looking through your window with its camera lens. You can never be sure that it’s recording and sending the footage back to its operator. The camera transmits the footage using radio waves. If the camera is assessing an unchanging view, the ratio signals don’t vary much.
You can intercept and display the footage on your screen. You can alter the monitored area by introducing a controlled change like using a red bulb to blink with a particular frequency and see if it changes the signal pattern. If you see a spike in the transmitted signal each time the red bulb goes off, then this means that the drone camera is recording your window. With this, you can contact the police as this particular situation warrants caution.
Radar Detection system
This option isn’t particularly easy or affordable to install but is included to ensure that all the bases are covered. Several security companies have developed sophisticated drone detection systems based on radar technology. The radar transmitters and receivers are installed around your sensitive property and can detect incoming drones from afar.
What to do when you think a drone is spying on you?
While it is true that not every drone that you see in the sky has any malicious endeavors, there is still a chance that some may pose a danger. So when you want to find out what is going on with a drone local to you, here are the recommended action steps.
- Talk to the pilot – If you can see the pilot, go and talk to them. However, you have to wait until the drone is on the ground to do so as it is both illegal and potentially dangerous to talk to them as they are flying the drone.
- Call the police – If you can’t see the pilot or don’t wish to approach them, call the police non-emergency number to avoid blowing things out of proportion. In most cases, commercial drone pilots will have already informed the police of their flying their drones in sensitive places like near airports or any other buildings.
Whatever you do, make sure to not interfere with the craft in any way or try to bring it down as that is illegal and can get you arrested or, worse, in prison.
What does a drone look like at night?
If a drone is hovering above your house, it will look like a blinking star but one with rapid movements in different directions. You can easily spot it by its throbbing white anti-collision light or the colorful LED lights on the landing gears of most drones, for one that is flying low.
Can drones see inside your house?
No. Most commercially available drones are fitted with regular cameras, just like the one on your phone. They can, however, zoom in on your windows and compromise your privacy nonetheless.
With drones becoming commonplace nowadays, learning how to spot a drone can give you peace of mind. You can take the necessary precautions and also act accordingly. Note that it is illegal to attempt to take down the drone. Not all drones that are flown at night necessitate panic. No matter the situation, the critical lesson is that you must exercise patience and common sense in such a situation.