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Environmental drone taken out by bald eagle in U.P.

Posted at 11:28 AM, Aug 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-13 11:28:05-04

ESCANABA, Mich. — A drone being used to map lakeshore erosion from high water levels ended up taking a permanent dip in Lake Michigan, thanks to a bald eagle.

Environmental Quality Analyst Hunter King with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, was flying a DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone near Escanaba on July 21. Seven minutes into the flight, the connection became spotty and King told the drone to automatically fly back to its take-off spot.

That's when the video feed showed the drone suddenly spinning at a high rate before going dark. Scanning the sky, King couldn't see the drone but did see a bald eagle nearby, according to a release. A couple who was bird watching down the shoreline told King the eagle attacked the drone, sheering off one of the four propellers.

Searches by EGLE staff could not find the drone, which went down about 150 feet from shore in four-foot deep water. Data from flight records show the eagle attacked the drone when it was about 160 feet in the air. The drone was traveling at more than 20 miles per hour when it hit the water.

EGLE says it plans to replace the $950 drone with a similar model. It may also add a skin to make it look less like seagulls, which are prey for bald eagles.