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Bald Eagle Takes Out Government Drone

Animals
Bald Eagle Takes Out Government Drone
A bald eagle flies over Lake Michigan. KURJANPHOTO / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A Michigan bald eagle proved that nature can still triumph over machines when it attacked and drowned a nearly $1,000 government drone.


The rogue eagle tussled with a drone operated by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) July 21, the department announced Thursday. EGLE asked the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) if it could issue a citation against the eagle, but the department said it had no authority over non-human wildlife.

"Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do," a DNR spokesman said. "Nature is a cruel and unforgiving mistress."

The drone, a $950 Phantom 4 Pro Advanced, was helping to map the Lake Michigan shoreline for erosion when the eagle struck.

EGLE environmental quality analyst and drone pilot Hunter King said he had commanded the drone to return from a mapping expedition near Escanaba in Michigan's Upper Peninsula because of weak satellite reception. He was watching it head back through a video screen when the image began to rotate violently.

"It was like a really bad rollercoaster ride," King said.

When he looked up, the drone had disappeared, and an eagle was racing away. A couple who had been birdwatching nearby said they had seen an eagle attack something, but did not know it was a drone. The eagle appeared to fly away from the incident unharmed.

"The attack could have been a territorial squabble with the electronic foe, or just a hungry eagle. Or maybe it did not like its name being misspelled," EGLE wrote.

After the eagle struck, the drone took 3.5 seconds to plummet into the water, The Associated Press reported. During that time, it sent 27 warning notifications, including one indicating one of its propellers was missing, likely torn off by the bird.

King and the couple tried and failed to find the fallen drone, EGLE said. Later attempts to recover the drone based on data pinpointing its location in the water also proved unsuccessful due to poor visibility.

It is not unusual for birds to attack drones, NBC News reported.

"Hunting birds, such as eagles and hawks, are especially dangerous," 3D Insider wrote. "They can be very territorial, and they will treat any flying object as a prey."

The Dutch police have even trained eagles to take out quadcopters because of the increased use of drones to smuggle illegal drugs or commit other crimes.

But EGLE's drone was not doing anything illegal. Instead, it was providing a beneficial service by mapping erosion to help communities respond to high water levels. To save future drones from falling in the line of duty, the department is considering using "skins" or other adjustments to make them look less like seagulls.

But while the bald eagle attack was bad news for the drone, it is ultimately a positive sign for the formerly endangered species, The Detroit News pointed out. The birds' Michigan population has soared from just 76 in the early 1970s to around 2,500 today.

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