Eagles are giving drones a hard time in Australia

eagles attacking drones eagle drone
Makieni/123RF
It’s fair to say that even the most skilled drone pilot is likely to be no match for a bird of prey that takes a strong dislike to their flying machine.

Last year, one unlucky drone owner recorded an eagle administering a severe talon “punch” to his drone (below), causing it to fall from the sky.

Bird attacks on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) recently became a serious issue for Gold Fields, a mining firm in Western Australia. The company said it’s lost not one, not even two, but nine drones when disgruntled wedge-tailed eagles made their feelings known by attacking the machines in the sky, downing them in the process.

The company told ABC News its drones have been targeted by the feathered foe while carrying out work near Lake Lefroy, about 350 miles east of Perth. Instead of using multi-rotor copters, Gold Fields uses a fixed-wing UAV with a 100-cm wingspan, similar in design to Parrot’s Disco drone, AeroVironment’s Quantix machine, or the one currently being used by Zipline to deliver medical supplies in Rwanda.

Made by Belgium-based Trimble, the UX5 drone is helping Gold Fields to survey wide areas of land, its built-in camera capturing HD images for computer-generated contouring of mining areas targeted for future work.

According to ABC News, Trimble’s specialized drone, together with its attached camera, costs around $20,000, so seeing even one knocked out of the sky – let alone nine – must be a real gut-wrenching experience for Gold Fields’ drone team.

Mine surveyor Rick Steven described birds of prey as “my single biggest problem” when it comes to his sky-based work.

In a bid to achieve crash-free flights, Steven tried painting the UAVs to make them look like baby eagles, but the larger birds soon rumbled the ruse.

“It looked like an eagle but couldn’t fight back like an eagle,” Steven said of the failed effort, adding, “Nine [UAVs] have been destroyed courtesy of this guy … they’re big birds.” Indeed they are, with some sporting a wingspan of up to 2.85 meters, nearly three times that of the UX5.

The solution that appears to be working for both Steven and the angry eagles is to fly earlier in the morning. Since he’s been hitting the skies at dawn, the number of incidents has dropped dramatically.

The best way for drone owners to avoid a run-in with these awesome creatures is to carefully survey the sky for the birds before you launch your machine. Keeping your eyes peeled while your drone is in the air is recommended, too, and should you at any point spot a bird of prey circling, it likely means it’s not happy to have you around, at which point you should move on. Either that or risk a nasty incident that could down your drone as well as injure the bird.

Ever had your UAV knocked out of the sky by a bird of prey? Let us know about it in the comments below.

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