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A Drone Encounters Two Eagles, and the Birds Win

A pair of arial predators snatched a photographer’s drone from the skies of Austria

smithsonian.com

Drones are becoming increasingly common as people find use for them as surveillance, photography devices, aids in rescue, crop disease hunters, whale snot collectors and even monitors for endangered species. These days, drones are considered invaluable for studying wildlife, but not all wildlife is happy about it.

Research shows that bears can be so discomforted by drones that their heart rate jumps, similar to how a person's heart rate will climb while they ride a double-corkscrew roller coaster, reports Jennifer S. Holland for National Geographic. So perhaps it comes as no surprise that nature is now fighting back.

Patrick Pircher was flying his DJI Phantom 3 drone above a stunning landscape of snow-brushed mountains in Austria when the attack came, reports Jess Staufenberg for The Independent. Two eagles started circling around the device and then one struck, sending the drone tumbling through the air. The edited footage reveals the swoop of a wing—one eagle has the drone in its talons.

The Austrian eagles brought their strange prey down to the ground to examine it, where they apparently figured out that the drone wasn’t edible. They abandoned their catch and Pircher was able to retrieve his drone. Christine Linnell at WhatsTrending writes that the drone’s propellers are soft enough that the birds wouldn’t have been hurt.

The incident isn’t the first time birds have noticed the mechanical intruders in their airspace. Other videos show a flock of birds dive bombing a drone and a wedge-tailed eagle in Australia swooping in and punching another drone out of the sky. In all of these cases, the birds claim victory.

The idea of an eagle tackling a drone isn’t that strange. Large Golden Eagles help the Kirghiz tribesman of central Asia catch and kill wolves and are also known to tackle adult pronghorn, writes Darren Naish on his Tetrapod Zoology blog. Even their smaller cousins, bald eagles, aren’t afraid to take relatively large prey—they can lift up to four pounds—though they tend to stick to fish. 

The drone in the video measures 23 inches across, diagonally, and is just under three pounds. Pircher doesn’t identify what kind of eagle nabbed his drone, but Golden eagles do fly in the skies of Austria. As the two birds of prey circle the drone, its apparent lack of concern likely made this strange device seem like easy pickings.

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