When launching your drone into the wild you have to accept responsibility for the animals and nature that you will be observing. Just like a well-known hiking moto “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”, as drone pilots we have a responsibility for acting responsibly and ethically when flying our drones. Here we’ll go over how drones get attacked by birds and the things you can do to protect your drone and the birds you encounter.
Yes, drones get attacked by birds. The reason that drones get attacked by birds is that the drone is flying in an area where birds are either nesting, hunting, or protecting a territory. It’s common for birds of prey to attack drones by swooping from above. You can stop your drone from being attacked by a bird by making it bright and look less like prey and avoiding natural bird habitats where they may be nesting or feeding.
Birds attacking drones are surprisingly common and occur all over the world. Interestingly it is only the largest of birds of prey that commonly take on drones – it may be because of their size that they feel more comfortable tackling such a strange flying object.
In Australia, large wedge-tail eagles are common attackers of drones and in the US eagles like to take on an unsuspecting drone. Hunting birds such as eagles and hawks are particularly dangerous to drones as they treat any flying object as potential prey – your hovering drone looks like the perfect slow-moving catch of the day for them!
However, downing drones is not exclusive to birds of prey. There are videos online of drones being taken down by geese and seagulls chasing a drone out to sea!
You don’t need to worry however, about the safety of the eagle or bird – there’s been no reporting of a drone hurting a bird – but that doesn’t mean that drowns don’t interrupt important bird activities.
Check out my video to find out more…
How do birds react to drones?
Although most birds will be scared away by the presence of a drone (it’s noise and movement) it doesn’t mean that your drone can’t come under attack if you get near birds and their nests. You must always fly with the goal of minimizing your impact on the environment that you are flying in. Here’s what could happen if you don’t fly with respect for the environment.
If drones are flown too close to bird nesting sites the noise and unfamiliar sight of a drone could drive birds away from their nests. In a worse case result this could lead to the complete abandonment of a eggs, or neglect of the egg to the point that it could become unviable.
Another option is that your drone may become the victim of a swooping attack from a protective mother. Smaller birds may not have the strength to take down a drone but could easily become injured by propellers. Injuring a mother ill result in less care for the egg that it is looking after.
Both of these outcomes could cause an unwanted drop in breeding success and could impact the local bird populations. Before flying, if if you see some nests in the area please reconsider flying your drone.
If you fly near a bird foraging or hunting for food the bird may go looking elsewhere for food sources. You could be forcing the bird to look for different, less abundant and nutritious food sources. Birds that cannot look after themselves are less likely to successfully breed and/or raise healthy chicks.
Flying your drone near nests of large birds of prey may illicit an attack. That is because your drone will be perceived as a threat to the nest and the birds eggs. Every time a bird is diverted away from it’s nest to attack or look at a drone it is no longer attending to the needs of it’s chicks and eggs.
The presence of a drone in a mating spot may cause the birds to abandon their mating efforts. The less bird sex going on the less likely the population will breed and continue to thrive.
There are many places that are protected from drones due to their potential impact on the wildlife in the area. Please take a moment to look at the laws in your country and specifically if you would likely be disturbing any birds nesting, mating, or foraging spots. Even if your proposed flying spot is not protected by legislation, please look at the area and abort your planned flight if you are attracting a load of bird attention or notice a large movement of birds after you take off.
How do I protect my drones from birds?
There are a couple of easy methods for you protect your drone and the birds in the area while flying or before taking off.
If you notice a large population of birds nearby or you notice that your drones is causing significant distress to the local wildlife I recommend that you land your drone immediately and find another place to fly. However, if you find that your drone is under attack from a particularly large bird and you want to make sure that the drone and the bird survive unscathed here what you can do:
- Pull up – if your drone is under attack the recommended mode of immediate action is you increase your altitude. This may seem counter-intuitive but attacking birds of prey will normally swoop from above. They are used to birds flying away from them. Flying towards them may help them recognize the drone as an unnatural addition to their environment and not something worth pursuing.
- Pull out – If not immediately under attack your first priority should be to land safely. Landing either at your take-off point of a position that you can easily reach the drone later.
Although these two approaches will help with the immediate dangers that are presented by a swooping bird you are able to make some modifications to your drone or your flight plan to minimize the chances of your drone becoming attacked.
Before flying – prevent birds from attacking drones
If you are noticing that bird attacks are becoming increasingly common while you are out flying, there are a couple of things that you can do…
Avoid nesting areas
It’s quite likely that your preferred flying area is a nesting or mating area for birds. Google the local bird watching organizations in your area and work out if there are spots that they recommend. It’s likely that the area is a high activity area. If in doubt I’m sure that these twitchers (bird watchers) would happily recommend some places where you could fly and not be in any danger of upsetting a strong bird population!
Make your drone stand out
Another method of minimizing the chances of a bird attack is to make sure that your drone doesn’t look like another bird! Drones are quite often dark colors and made of plastic and metal. Even to a bird with good eyesight a drone looks like another bird – after all, they have no expectations that a futuristic device would be roaming the sky.
You can either paint your drone a different color or buy brightly colored and reflective tape for the arms and body of the drone. The goal with both is to make the drone look as unnatural as possible!
If you are adding stuff to the drone be sure not to unbalance the drone or add too much weight. This could cause your battery life to decrease and also make your drone unstable and harder to fly!
Fly early in the morning
Bigger birds (the sort that would happily take on your drone) like to use warm air to lift them as they are flying. This is to conserve energy while hunting and flying. By flying in the early morning the birds are a little less active as they are waiting for the air to warm up a little and produce updrafts. this doesn’t mean that there will be no birds ready to attack your drone but it may reduce the risk for you.
also, some of the best photography is had in the early morning (one hour after sunrise, so use this as the perfect excuse for an early morning flight.
Stay ways from feeding areas
Some commercial drone pilots told Waypoint that they often scan the area with google maps to look for chicken farms – a place for birds of prey to get an easy meal!
I’ll use Google Earth and look for long sheds in the area, especially the free-range type. Not far from my town there are dozens of these farms and I’ve counted over a dozen wedgies circling above them.Troy Fardell, RPAS Australia
Also, lakes streams and bio-diverse paddocks are the perfect place for birds to be feeding – they also happen to be where you’d be likely to get some awesome drone shots too!
Avoid times of the year with high bird activity
Some of the times or high bird activity are:
- Migration time – Spring and autumn are the two times of high bird activity. During this time birds often gather in large numbers. This could increase the potential of a bird attacking your drone.
- Breeding season – During the breeding seasons, birds are more active and aggressive as they are trying to claim territory. Stay away from areas where birds are known to breed.
- Winter – Birds looking for a warmer climate during winter migration may bring more birds to your area. Or if you live in a colder climate it may be the best time to fly your drone!
The exact time that birds are active will vary by climate, habitat and dominant species in the area. There re always birds around but you can avoid the peak times of activity if you find that bird are regularly attacking your drone.
Do drones scare birds?
Yes, drones can quite easily scare birds and they are used often as a way to scare birds away from airports and farms. In fact, bird damage is a huge problem around the world, and the total loss to horticulture in Australia is estimated at $300 million annually with $200 million extra spent on systems to get rid of them.
A drone that is used to scare birds typically has a speaker attached and will play sounds that the birds do not like to hear. Such as a preditor or loud sound.
One example of this type of drone is the Avian scout bird-scaring drone. The drones have a random flight pattern to protect against the birds getting used to the drone and its path. This particular drone carries what it aptly, called “the screecher”.
The screecher is a high powered drone that outputs a range of different sounds which, when combined, work together to ensure birds are frightened away from the crop and off your property. This is designed for the Australian Market and so it keeps away local wildlife like Rosellas, Cockatoos and other Parrots that can quite easily arrive in large numbers and destory a crop!
Drones vs birds – the outcome
When a drone does come into contact with a bird there is a high potential for either drone damage or for the bird to become injured! Luckily there are no reported incidences of drones causing the death of a bird.
This compilation shows that the majority of the time the drone ends up worse off than the bird does.
In some of these cases, the drone pilot clearly got too close to the nest of a bird or came too close for comfort. A lot of these issues of birds attacking drones could be resolved by not purposely getting close to wildlife.
Ways to stop drones hurting wildlife
You may have seen a few ways that people are attempting to stop drones hurting wildlife or becoming a nuisance in other ways. In fact, birds are attacking drones – and were being trained to do so!
Eagles trained to attack drones – but retired soon after
You may have seen in late 2016 that eagles were being trained to attack drones. This was to stop them coming in close proximity to airports and other drone free places. This is the news coverage of these birds:
Apparently, the birds just got distracted most of the time and so the Dutch police foruce retired them after calls for the birds saftey came in. Also, there just seemed to be too little need for them.
That is good news for drone enthusiasts since, as we all know, most of us are doing the right thing. Instead the war on rogue drones has taken a much more high tech approach with guns that fire nets, other anti-drone guns, and even WiFi jamming sky fences.
The DroneGun MkIII is one example of the sorts of guns that re being developed to combat drones that get a little to close for comfort:
The DroneGun MkIII is a compact, lightweight drone countermeasure designed for one-hand operation. The product provides a safe countermeasure against a wide range of drone models. Drones will generally respond via a vertical controlled landing on the spot or returning back to the starting point. RF disruption activation will also interfere with any live video streaming (FPV) back to the remote controller halting the collection of video footage and intelligence by the drone operator.DroneGun MkIII
Instead of knocking the drone out of the sky this gum forces the drone to return to it’s landing spot.
The final word
It is surprisingly common that drones get attacked by birds. Drones get attacked when they are flying in an area where birds are either nesting, hunting, or protecting a territory. You can stop your drone from being attacked by a bird by making it bright and look less like prey and avoiding natural bird habitats where they may be nesting or feeding.
If in doubt or you notice a large amount of drone activity please do the right thing and land as soon as it is safe to do so. Let’s keep nature and it’s inhabitants safe so we can have more awesome drone flights in more awesome places!