Rapidly evolving drone technologies are taking the conservation sector by storm. Although the technical and applied conservation literature tends to frame drones as autonomous, neutral technologies, we argue that neither drones nor their implications can be adequately understood unless they are grounded, conceptually and methodologically, in the context of broader societal structures that shape how drones and the data they produce are used. This article introduces the value of a political ecology framework to an interdisciplinary audience of biophysical and social scientists interested in the multiple possibilities and complications associated with conservation drones. Political ecology provides the tools for studying and critically engaging with drone use in conversation in ways that are politically engaged and attuned to power relations – historic and present, local and global – in a more-than-human world. In making this argument, we point to four conceptual tools in political ecology that offer a framework for unveiling the power relations and structures that surround drones in different contexts: political economy, territoriality, knowledge and expertise, and more-than-human relations. Using empirics from our work across Latin America (Colombia and Guatemala), Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique), and North America (the US and Canada), we illustrate the salience of this framework and demonstrate why evaluating what drones do in and for conservation requires first understanding the complex set of power relations that shape their use.