How to Spot a Drone at Night

Drone flying at night may not be illegal, but it can pose risks and raise questions. Just like what happened in Colorado and Nebraska late last year. Some residents noticed unmanned drones swarming over their neighborhood, and authorities could not identify who was controlling them.

It was mysterious but also creepy. While not every quad that buzzes over your house in the dark could be spying on you, it would be unsettling to deal with the unknown. As precautionary measures, here are our top 5 tips on how to spot a drone at night

How to Spot a Drone at Night

How Do You Spot a Drone at Night?

There are two things you need to look out for when you’re suspecting a drone is in your area beyond daytime: lights and sounds.

Check Out the Lights

When you can’t make out the outline of a flying object, the lights it comes with can help you determine if it’s a drone. Prosumer drones, like DJI and Syma, are equipped with a native lighting system. You may know them as navigation lights. The other, which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires, is referred to as anti-collision lights.

To distinguish between the two, consider the regularity and the color of light.

  • Navigation Lights – These are solid, non-strobe lights that are green, red, or white. They are mainly used for allowing the operator to see where the drone is going. It is not necessary to pick just one light color so that you can use multiple colors simultaneously.

Most manufacturers include them in the quad’s system. Meaning, you don’t have to install them when you have a typical drone. However, they may not appear too strong during the evening. They are also not visible during the daytime. If you want to pilot your drone at night, you need to install the second type.

  • Anti-Collision Lights – Spotting anti-collision lights is easier. They blink, like stars, while they move. And they come in white or red. You can also choose from more advanced options when it comes to strobes: fast strobe, slow strobe, and constant light. 

Sometimes, this feature is pre-installed in the unit. But other times, you need to buy it as an add-on.

The FAA requires this type of lighting, especially for those who plan to use their drones for different purposes and reasons. The night is defined by the department as the time between the end of the Evening Civil Twilight and the start of the Morning Civil Twilight.

Evening Civil Twilight is the period that occurs between 30 minutes and an hour after sunset. Morning Civil Twilight begins one hour before sunrise and ends 30 minutes before sunrise. These definitions are determined by the FAA.

Listen to the Sounds

The other indicator that the passing object is maybe a drone is the sound it comes with. Drones have a distinct sound. That is, if accompanied by a blinking or solid colored light, its buzz will betray itself. Take note that this sound is already quieter than the ones used by older versions. 

If this is your first time to deal with drones and have no idea, this video clip may come in handy. The lights here may not be up-to-date but focus on the sound.

Meanwhile, you can also detect a quad through other means, such as a contraption called the DroneShield. Based on the whirring noises, it can identify the model of an approaching drone and send an alert via text message. This can be useful for security personnel or when you are flying a drone at night as well.

How Do You Tell if a Drone is Spying on You?

Shooting down a drone is illegal, according to the FAA, even if you think it fits the description of spy drones. So, if a suspicious drone is flying directly above your home, here are the things you can do instead:

Talk to the Operator

Often, the purpose of drone flying is legitimate. Commercial rigs are allowed to operate in residential areas. Your security and privacy issues can be valid, but sometimes the purpose may have nothing to do with you. Low-altitude ones can be doing any of these things: filming, assessing roofing, inspecting properties, and measuring solar installations. 

In such cases, after carefully considering the reason, you may trace the drone operator once the flight ends. The FAA requires flyers to keep the unit within their line of sight. But depending on where you live, tracking the user can be relatively easy.

Note: Make sure you gather information about the use of drones for night-time patrols in your community. For people wondering what do police drones look like at night, check out this video:

Define Your Issue and Consult Local Laws

If you have valid reasons to believe you are being spied on, go ahead and define what’s bothering you.

You may take issue with the drone spying or stalking you. Or it’s the noise that you want to get rid of. In either case, check what your state or local privacy and noise ordinances are, respectively. However, if your problem is related to the drone allegedly taking pictures of your property, the law may not be on your side here.

Airspace is regulated by the FAA, so you don’t have the right to take down the unmanned aircraft even if it’s flying over your home.

Record the Event

If you want to draft a complaint, you should document the incident, if possible. Take photos or videos of the aircraft. You can also log pertinent information, such as the time and date of the supposed spying/stalking, the model if you can identify it, and the number on the side of the drone if you can see it.

Drones you see outdoors usually fall under the FAA registration rule. Write everything down to help the authorities track the owner quickly. Since it has a relatively short battery life, the thing will have been gone when the police arrive. So they will rely on the details you documented.

Call the Authorities

Like we said earlier, you can call the police because your case may not be related to drone laws but other existing laws on privacy, harassment, and the likes. Reporting the incident to the proper authority can help move your complaint forward.

If the local law enforcement finds that drone regulations have been violated, they can call the FAA to collaborate on or take over the case. 

What Color Lights Do Drones Have at Night?

As mentioned above, there are three light colors you can typically find on drones: red, green, or white. Depending on their regularity, you can identify them as navigation lights or anti-collision lights. Navigation lights are solid or non-strobe red, green, or white. On the other hand, anti-collision lights are blinking/strobe red or white.

These colors can go together. It does not mean the drone is only allowed one solid green light, and that’s it. In many instances, you can add another color of the same lighting system. And then, you can add anti-collision lights to ensure the drone is compliant with FAA rules. Also, you can only see navigation lights at night as they are not visible in daylight. 

Can Drones See Inside Your House?

No, drones should not be able to see inside your house. This level of scrutiny can only be possible if the quad is flying near your window. Even in that case, a drone’s capacity to deal with the distance and glass glare depends on the technology. During the day, reflection issues might interfere with the recording anyway.

It is a bit different at night, though. The lights on the drone can assist the camera in taking clearer shots of the inside of your house. And that is if it’s hovering a few inches away from the window.


Learning how to spot a drone at night can give you peace of mind. You can take the necessary precautions when you realize that “hmmm, why are those drones following me?” At the same time, you can act accordingly, especially the proper way. You shouldn’t attempt to take down the aircraft because that would be illegal.

When you see a drone flying around the area, you can narrow down the possible reasons for the event. You might want to put yourself in the shoes of the drone operator. Perhaps they can’t fly the device during the daytime. Or they’re working overtime to meet a project deadline.

No matter what it is, know that the lesson on how to spot a drone at night works both ways. You must exercise patience and common sense toward the person flying the quad as you might find yourself in their position someday.

Learn more about drones, how to use them, or where to buy them here at Drones Watch.

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