Aerial drones can help us observe birds and other wildlife from afar, but they can also easily annoy or alarm animals when they fly too close. Some animals have begun to lash out at drones in recent years, captured in a growing array of drone fails on YouTube. It's clear most civilian drones are still no match for Mother Nature's air force, but the video above offers some of the most impressive evidence yet.
Filmed in Australia by Melbourne-based drone operator Adam Lancaster, the 15-second clip beautifully captures what happens when you venture into the airspace of an angry eagle. And this isn't just any eagle — it's the wedge-tailed eagle, Australia's largest bird of prey, whose wingspan can grow up to 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) across.
The video opens with the drone flying innocuously over a cluster of trees, although if you look closely, the eagle is visible from the very beginning. It's sitting in the tallest tree in the frame, perched on one of the top-left branches poking above the horizon.
After sizing up the mysterious intruder, it lifts off at 0:04 and uses its enormous wings to propel itself directly at the camera. The drone starts flying higher, but by this point its fate is sealed. The eagle reaches its target within about four seconds, raising its talons at 0:08 to "punch the drone out of the sky," as Lancaster writes on YouTube.
The bird sent a clear message about its air supremacy, and unlike the drone, Lancaster says it came out unscathed. "Eagle was fine," he writes. "Hung around overhead so [I] got a really good look. Eagle's health was my main concern."
The video has quickly gone viral since it was uploaded, having been viewed more than 2.7 million times in less than a week. Lancaster also released this slow-mo version:
Wedge-tailed eagles were once widely persecuted in Australia due to a mistaken belief they had an impact on livestock, although legal protection has since helped the species recover. They're now abundant and widespread, according to the conservation group ARKive, and their overall population is thought to be increasing (aside from a Tasmanian subspecies that's endangered by habitat loss).
While Lancaster's drone apparently caused no real harm to this bird — other than a few ruffled feathers — the video does offer a reminder of the risks wildlife face from the sudden abundance of drones. Despite their intimidating size and demeanor, wedge-tailed eagles can be surprisingly sensitive to disturbance by humans.
"This large eagle is a shy nester, and human activity often leads it to abandon its nest," according to ARKive. "As a result, it may have been affected by disturbance in heavily settled and intensively farmed parts of its range, although it appears to be habituating to human activity in some areas."
On top of letting us safely see what it's like to incur the wrath of this majestic raptor, Lancaster says he hopes his video will remind other drone operators not to make the same mistake he did. Things turned out OK this time — the drone reportedly needs about $100 worth of repairs — but it could have easily been worse.
"Do not fly drones near birds of prey," Lancaster writes, noting the likelihood of an attack. "This will cost you money and potentially harm to the bird. If you see a bird of prey while flying. Land. I have added this to my operating procedure."