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Are Some Falcons Really Trained to Attack Paparazzi Drones?

One for the birds

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

“Hotels recruit falcons to take out paparazzi’s pesky drones,” Page Six reported in September. The Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, a palatial seaside getaway, had supposedly acquired 13 falcons to protect a wedding with famous attendees, including Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. To me this sounded dangerous, illegal, and fake all at once. It also sounded awesome.

I asked the hotel about its anti-paparazzi birds. “This is completely untrue,” Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc spokesperson Valérie Muller said. With that, my vision of Mary-Kate dreamily extinguishing a Gauloises on a balcony as an enraged falcon maimed a drone dissipated. The specifics of the story were too good to be real — although, as I discovered, they’re not impossible. Though it appears Page Six was savagely punked by the French, this denial does not necessarily mean that our world is tragically devoid of birds weaponized to mess up paparazzi drones. There are birds trained to take down other kinds of drones. Guard From Above, a Netherlands-based company, trains birds to snatch “hostile” drones with their talons; it uses bald eagles rather than falcons.

“We have intercepted hundreds of drones during training and no birds have been injured during the training, but a lot of drones have been,” CEO Sjoerd Hoogendoorn told me via email. I asked if its birds had ever been sent out to get paparazzi. He said clients typically purchase the birds outright — in other words, Guard From Above doesn’t pick the targets. They weren’t able to offer any other details, aside from the fact that they work with the Dutch police. “If they would decide that a paparazzi drone is a possible threat to public safety it could be possible that our government client will intercept this drone,” he said.

So: a strong “maybe.” But what about in America? Is there an anti-paparazzi drone company screening Nightcrawler to a flock of predators right now? Or, like Rita Ora, are drone-murdering birds something that has merely caught on in Europe? There was a rumor last February that Kanye West planned to import eagles to protect his home from paparazzi drones, but his rep denied it. Perhaps there was at least a nugget of truth in what sounded like wild gossip.

I thought some of the hottest celeb-sighting hotels could tell me a little about the drone situation. Sunset Tower Hotel confirmed that it is not employing birds of prey in anti-paparazzi efforts yet, although interest was piqued. “Seems like it’s going to be an interesting story,” a spokesperson said. Chateau Marmont did not respond.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure a riled-up bird has ever housed a paparazzi drone over U.S. soil. The Audubon Society told me that the paparazzi drones seem “unique to Europe.” It did, however, point to a blog post published earlier this year that took a pro-drone-murdering-bird stance. “Why not employ a troop of eagles to intercept hostile drones?” it concluded.

Here’s one reason why not: because U.S.-based bird trainers seem outright hostile about the idea.

“To us, the practice sounds dangerous given the propellers spinning and the potential for harm to the raptor,” a spokesperson from San Diego’s Sky Falconry told me. “We personally would not send any of our birds after drones given the risk involved.”

A company called Falcon Force trains birds of prey to shoo “nuisance birds” like pigeons away, but it is not keen on doing the same for drones. “We don’t provide that kind of service, in fact that is the most horrible idea from the perspective of the welfare of the falcon. A drone can practically shred a raptor with its propellers,” Falcon Force founder Vahé Alaverdian told me. “To my knowledge no one here in the U.S. will be doing that.”