Eagle-eyed: Dutch police train birds to take down drones

Bald eagles naturally hate drones because of their poor flying manners and territorial threat

Dutch police are training eagles to remove drones that pose a public safety threat. Video; Reuters

As the use of drones increasingly worries everyone from fire fighters and air traffic control to law enforcement, Netherlands’ national police have aligned themselves with a group that hates flying robots on principle: the bald eagle.

Dutch police have joined forces with Guard From Above, a raptor-training security firm based in Denmark, to keep wayward drones from causing trouble by snatching them out of the sky.

Guard From Above’s chief executive officer Sjoerd Hoogendoorn described the project in a press release as “a low-tech solution for a high-tech problem”. He and the company’s chief operating officer, Ben de Keijzer, train birds of prey to catch unauthorised unmanned vehicles – Hoogendoorn’s background is in private security, de Keijzer’s is in bird handling and training.

Birds, said the Audobon Society’s Geoff LeBaron, are generally dubious about drones anyway as they tend to demonstrate terrible avian manners.


Often drones lose their flying privileges because local birds feel crowded. “The drones are pretty much the size of a bird of prey, so smaller birds on the ground aren’t likely to mob a bird of prey when it’s flying – but larger birds are, especially when it’s around their nests,” said LeBaron, who’d seen the behaviour in barnacle geese as well as raptors like ospreys. “The birds of prey are having an aggressive interaction to defend their territory from another bird of prey.”

LeBaron is the director of the organisation’s Christmas Bird Count, a crowdsourced wildlife census that tracks US bird populations. The birds, he said, are in many cases demonstrating that they have superior onboard equipment to the drones.

“What I find fascinating is that birds can hit the drone in such a way that they don’t get injured by the rotors,” said LeBaron. “They seem to be whacking the drone right in the centre so they don’t get hit; they have incredible visual acuity and they can probably actually see the rotors.”

Humans, of course, only see rotors as a blur – LeBaron suspects that the eagles can make out the complete movement and so have no trouble avoiding injury. It doesn’t hurt, either: attacking a drone the way a bird might attack another bird is usually effective. “Their method of attack is always going to be to hit it in the middle of the back; with the drones they perceive the rotors on the side and so they just go for the rear.”

The birds Guard From Above is using – in its video, a pair of bald eagles, one immature and one adult – appear trained not merely to disable the drone, but to retrieve it, an even trickier feat.

Using birds to take down drones is the latest in a series of attempts to tackle unwanted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In Japan, drones using nets have been developed to capture rogue UAV that might threaten disruptions along flight paths. A team of British journalists have developed a "death ray" for drones that can disable them in flight. – Guardian service