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You may have seen videos or heard stories about birds colliding with drones. Or worse, birds cause even manned aircraft to conduct an emergency landing after coming into contact with them.
Can birds take down a drone?
Yes, larger predatory birds can take down a drone if they perceive it as a threat or prey. Drones are no match for such birds. On the other hand, birds that choose to fly away may still collide with your drone accidentally, causing it to crash.
Keep reading to learn more about why birds may attack your drone, what to do if they attack it, and the best ways to fly in areas that birds frequent.
Can birds take down a drone? #
A few months ago, I was flying a Phantom 4 Pro in an open space close to a local swamp. I decided to test a higher altitude and fly further away to test the range.
Little did I know that I got the attention of an eagle, and within a few minutes, it attempted to snatch the drone. While it didn’t grab the drone, it caused damage to the propellers, and the drone crashed into a tree.
Luckily, I was able to retrieve it, but I could have avoided this occurrence if I had been paying closer attention.
So yes, a bird can take down a drone or grab and fly away with it. All it takes is a damaged propeller or motor or a dent that will cause the drone not to fly as it should, and it falls out of the sky like a rock.
Sometimes the bird will manage to grab it, and you may never recover your drone. Think about it. The Phantom 4 Pro weighs 3 pounds, a weight that an eagle can easily carry.
If you have smaller drones like the DJI Mini 2 or Air 2S, an eagle will easily bring it down or carry it away. I learned that the hard way.
I don’t have any footage of my encounter unfortunately, but below is a video showing instances where birds have taken down drones:
But before I discuss how you can prevent bird attacks, let’s first look at why a bird is a threat to your drone.
Why do birds attack drones? #
Birds perceive drones as threats. Just like a lion is the king of the jungle and would attack an animal that invades its territory, birds, especially predatory birds, perceive drones as just another “animal” invading their “territory.”
Drones are smaller than planes and fly at the same altitudes as most birds, which causes more confusion to them.
I have seen drone pilots fly close to a bird’s nest to see how they react. And as you’d expect, the bird’s first instinct is to attack the drone and “neutralize” the threat.
When they perceive a threat, birds may also fly up, or scuttle, running into the drone if it’s in their pathway.
Another reason they may attack the drone is that they think it’s prey. Predatory birds are known to pick prey from the ground, but some will attack other birds.
Regardless of the color, a drone may move like a bird, tempting the bird to come swooping, aiming for a kill.
Effects of drones on birds #
Below are more ways drones are a danger to birds.
Injuries and death #
When a bird attacks your drone, it will most likely suffer injuries, especially from the propellers. In cases where you may fly a drone into a flock of birds, unaware birds may also collide with the drone, causing injuries or death.
Disrupting nests and breeding activities #
Not all birds can attack a drone. Some choose to fly away when they perceive the drone and its buzzing sound as a threat.
A good example is when seabirds were scared away by drones in Bolsa Chica (link) and left thousands of their eggs unattended. As a result, these eggs did not hatch, killing almost a whole generation of seabirds.
Disrupting feeding and migratory habits #
Drones flying close to feeding areas may scare away the birds, causing them to find other places to feed, which may not be as good as when the drone approached.
Also, a drone crashing into a flock of birds may disrupt their migratory route, separating some birds from the flock or slowing them down.
Increased stress #
Not all birds will fly away or attack when a drone approaches. But this study shows that animals that don’t react behaviorally by attacking or running away may have increased heart rates and stress levels.
These effects also affect their feeding, mating, and migratory habits, and not in a good way.
How to prevent birds from attacking your drone #
Below are some ways to avoid bird attacks and fly drones safely around birds without interrupting their habits.
Be aware of your surroundings #
Predatory birds are perfect at hunting from the air. That’s why they often come out of nowhere, giving you little time to react.
But you have the advantage of viewing a large space of the area you are flying from the ground, making it easier to see birds approaching your drone. But if you are flying FPV, you will need to be more careful since it’s very easy to be blindsided.
Always observe your surroundings, pay attention to the birds in the area, and observe what they are doing. If a bird keeps circling your drone, chances are it will attempt to take it down.
If a bird is flying directly at your drone, start deploying evasive maneuvers (more on this later).
Avoid bird nests and feeding grounds #
Avoid flying in areas where birds feed, breed, or nest to avoid the abovementioned situations. You can check local areas or Google areas where birds are likely to be.
If you can’t find any of this information, conduct a reconnaissance visit to the area you plan to fly in, observe the bird activity around the area, conduct a threat assessment, and find out if it will be safe to fly.
One of the most common places to find birds’ nests is around trees. So no matter what you do, never hover your drone around trees since that will cause a lot of nuisance for the birds nesting there, causing them to fight or flee.
Observe local laws #
Most areas where drones disrupted bird activities were parks or protected wildlife areas where drone activity is prohibited. Flying in such an area is a risk to the birds and your drone, and you could also end up in trouble with law enforcement.
Obtain maps or charts, such as the LAANC Authorization Map, showing areas you can fly in, those you can’t fly in, and those needing permission from the FAA or the user agency.
Fly very early in the morning #
If you can’t escape bird activity, try to fly early in the morning. Why? It’s quite cold at this time, and birds, especially larger birds, will need more energy to generate lift. As a result, they tend to wait for the day to get warmer.
You can take advantage of this pattern. Besides, some of the best shots you can take will be at sunrise, when it’s not too bright.
Use propeller guards #
Since, in some cases, you may accidentally run into birds, consider installing propeller guards on your drone.
The first part that comes into contact with the bird, wall, or any other object during a collision is the propeller. Spinning at high speeds, the propellers will cause lacerations to the bird before they get damaged.
Having propeller guards minimizes the chances of the propellers hurting the bird and the propellers getting damaged.
Keep your distance and observe the birds’ direction #
If you can’t avoid the birds, stay 50 to 100 feet away from them and avoid approaching them head-on.
Migratory birds may perceive that as a threat, and they will either attack the drone flying in their direction or change their flight path, which may lead to more adverse consequences.
Use a quieter drone #
The drone’s buzzing sound may increase stress levels in birds, and when they see the drone approaching, they may fight or flee.
To avoid this, get a quieter drone and keep your distance, so the birds don’t see or hear the drone.
It’s a good thing that many recently released drones are smaller and quieter, and if you do it right, you can fly around birds without being a nuisance to them.
What to do if birds are attacking your drone #
There are cases where no matter how careful you try to be, some birds will still perceive your drone as a threat and attempt to attack it.
As mentioned earlier, you should be able to see a bird approaching your drone from above or from the side when flying from the ground.
In such a case, the best evasive action is to ascend to a high altitude.
Predatory birds are used to speeding toward the ground to snatch their prey. So if you descend and attempt to land, you will only motivate the bird to keep attacking even when the drone has landed.
But if you ascend, you confuse them since they often fly up to soar and rest, not to attack.
Besides, the ascending speed for most drones is faster than the descending speed.
You may also have to effect some evasive maneuvers if the bird persists. Switching to sport mode also helps since the drone moves faster in this mode.
And once you have tired out the bird, fly the drone to a safer location and land.
If you are not careful, birds can take down your drone. But that should be the least of your worries, considering flying your drone around them is more harmful to them than it is to your drone.
Aim to fly responsibly to save you and the birds from unnecessary run-ins, potential injuries, and other effects.
Research bird activity in your area, avoid nests and feeding grounds, keep a safe distance from the birds, and invest in propeller guards.