Bald Eagle Takes Down EGLE Drone Over Lake Michigan

bald eagle
Photo credit (Getty)

(WWJ) A bald eagle attacked a drone operated by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), sending it splashing into Lake Michigan.  

The department says the attack happened July 21, when the drone was mapping shoreline erosion near Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula.

The drone's pilot, Hunter King, said he'd completed about seven minutes of the mapping flight when satellite reception became spotty and the drone began twirling furiously.

"It was like a really bad rollercoaster ride," said King.

When he looked up at the video screen the drone was gone, and an eagle was flying away. A nearby couple, whose pastimes include watching the local eagles attack seagulls and other birds, later confirmed they saw the eagle strike something but were surprised to learn it was a drone.

Both King and the couple said the eagle appeared uninjured as it flew from the scene of the crime.

EGLE said racking data indicates the drone landed in the lake, about 150 feet offshore.

The couple joined King in a search, but hours of scouring the shoreline were fruitless. Several days later, EGLE Unmanned Aircraft Systems coordinator Arthur Ostaszewski brought a kayak and snorkeling gear to assist — but the drone still has not been found. 

As for why it happened, officials say attack could have been a territorial squabble with the electronic foe, or just a hungry eagle. "Or maybe it did not like its name being misspelled," the department joked, in a news release.

EGLE's drone team is considering steps to reduce the possibility of a repeat attack, including possibly using "skins" or other designs on the aircraft to make them look less like seagulls.

Eagle populations have rebounded in Michigan. A 2019 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey showed 849 active nesting sites In Michigan, up from a low point of 76 nesting sites in the 1970s.

EGLE said it reached out to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to see if it might issue a citation or violation notice to the rogue bird of prey. "Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do," a DNR spokesman said. "Nature is a cruel and unforgiving mistress."

The drone, a $950 Phantom 4 Pro Advanced, is no longer in production, and will be replaced with a similar model.