Birds of prey are fascinating to watch until they set their sights on your aerial drone. Attacks on drones have been widely reported but probably haven’t been a concern to you, as a drone pilot, unless you’ve fallen victim to one.
We recently had our own bad experience with a bird taking down our drone while we were on a commercial photo shoot. We were taking photos using autopilot, where the drone stopped, took a picture, and then continued to its next position. Apparently, a bird took offense at our slow-moving drone and attacked. Fortunately, the 200-ft fall was broken by vegetation! After replacing a broken propeller, we were able to continue our job.
Why Would a Bird Attack a Small Aerial Drone?
Three reasons come to mind:
- They feel threatened by the drone’s intrusion into their territory.
- They think the drone might be a source of food.
- They feel their nest is threatened. Be especially careful during mating and nesting season.
Large birds of prey, such as eagles and hawks, can be hazardous to your drone especially if they’re much larger. I can’t imagine an attack that’s not hazardous to the bird as they have the spinning propellers to avoid. But if they manage to latch onto your drone’s vulnerable underbody, its next stop is going to be on the ground.
This article on bird attacks at the COPTRZ web site provides additional detail.
Avoid Bird Attacks!
We didn’t have a problem with bird attacks until we automated our photo runs, which stop for several seconds to snap each picture. Taking your photos at lower altitudes will present your drone as a threat and an ideal target. However, photography at 250 feet or higher is less threatening and takes away a lot of their advantage. High-resolution photos can be cropped to simulate a zoom-in effect without sacrificing very much picture quality.
Flying significantly faster than most birds (and prey) will also present your drone as a more challenging target. All of our video runs are done on autopilot with altitudes above 200 feet and speeds above 20 mph.
Aerial mapping has its risks as well, but our mapping runs are almost always at 400 feet altitude and speeds above 15 mph. We program our drones to take pictures while maintaining cruise speed because the risk of blur is so low. Most birds at that altitude aren’t going to pay your drone much attention.
Documenting Bird Attacks
Several interesting bird attack videos are posted to this site, Dronelife. The threat is real!
We’re now enabling video in our photo runs, between the photos, to possibly capture our own adventures with angry birds. Should our drone be recovered, at least we’ll have some consolation along with evidence that can be presented with our insurance company claim.