We’ve seen hawks hired to keep pigeons away from Wimbledon during the tennis, vultures tasked with finding thermals for paragliders and falcons employed by many seaside towns to scare seagulls away from chip shops, but police in the Netherlands this week started using raptors, mankind’s BFF (best feathered friends), for a whole new purpose: to crack down on the illicit use of drones.
Members of the elite Dutch flying squad have been trained by a specialist group based in the Hague, called Guard from Above, fronted by private security expert Sjoerd Hoogendoorn and experienced bird trainer Ben de Keijzer. The company recently released footage of the birds in action, plucking ‘hostile drones’ clean out of the sky and taking them off for a good pecking.
The raptors used by the company are bald eagles, and incredibly, they appear to be capable of seizing the drone mid-flight, without being hit by the rotors. Guard from Above are anxious to underline that their animals are not risking injury by tackling the drones. ‘Birds of prey often overpower large and dangerous prey,’ their website says. ‘Their talons have scales, which protect them, naturally, from their victims’ bites.’
Geoff LeBaron, from the National Audubon Society, told The Guardian this week that the raptors have such finely tuned visual senses that they can probably see the rotor actually turning, rather than the blur that the human eye perceives, and that they treat the drone like a prey species or rival bird entering their airspace. ‘Their method of attack is always going to be to hit it in the middle of the back,’ said LeBaron. ‘With the drones they perceive the rotors on the side and so they just go for the rear.’
What actually constitutes a ‘hostile drone’ is open to argument, but with the technology increasingly being used by untrained members of the public, as well as by groups with potentially more sinister motives, concerns have been raised about both security and safety, especially around airports, where several near misses have been reported by airline pilots. The potential for paparazzi to use drones to capture intrusive footage of celebs and people in the public eye has also been muted.
According to Guards from Above’s website, their birds of prey offer a ‘low-tech solution to a high-tech problem’. With police forces in England being downsized, we wait with baited breath to see if bobbies will be replaced by birds on the (wing)beat.