“Bald eagle attacks drone – and wins” is not exactly a headline you might expect to read on any given day. As the bald eagle population around Lake Michigan continues its incredible comeback, an attack like this one isn’t as far-fetched as it seems.
Bald Eagle Attacks Drone at Lake Michigan
On July 21st, 2020, environmental quality analyst Hunter King was flying a drone belonging to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), when, ironically, it was attacked by a bald eagle. (1, 2)
The drone, a Phantom 4 Advanced Quadcopter, was helping to map erosion on the shoreline of the lake. This data is important to help communities prepare for and deal with rising water levels. When King pressed the “Go Home” button, all seemed normal until the drone began “twirling furiously” mid-flight. The Phantom 4 was in an altercation with one of the Lake’s top predators, the bald eagle. (1) The eagle was attacking the drone.
Flight speed dropped immediately from 20 mph to 10 mph. (2) In the span of 3.5 seconds, the drone was sending 27 warning notifications, one of which telling King that the propeller is torn off. (1, 2)
The final warning signal was telling King that the $950 drone was falling at a rate of 30 feet per second, finally crashing into the water below. (1)
“It was like a really bad roller coaster ride,” King described. (1)
King didn’t actually see the eagle with the drone, but he saw it flying away in victory. When he went to attempt to retrieve it, he met a couple who had witnessed the battle. By all accounts the eagle was completely unharmed, proving that modern technology was no match for it. (1, 2) Eagle attacks drone? More like defenseless drone falls victim to evil bird (just kidding).
After several hours of searching with help from the witness couple, King did not find the drone. A few days after the altercation, EGLE Unmanned Aircraft Systems coordinator Arthur Ostaszewski took a kayak into the lake to search for the drone, and he also came up empty-handed. (1)
Why Did an Eagle Attack a Drone
EGLE says they can’t be certain of why this eagle had a vendetta out for the drone.
“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.” (1)
They asked that Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources do something to reprimand the eagle for the attack, however, the department has said that they do not have the authority to do so to an individual, non-human wildlife. (1, 2)
A Population on the Rise
In the 1970s, the bald eagle population in Michigan had reached an all-time low of just 79 nesting sites. In a stunning recovery, the birds now have 849 active nesting sites as of 2019 data. (2)
EGLE’s drone team is now working on ways to prevent future drone attacks, primarily in ensuring the design is as un-Seagle-like as possible. (1, 2)