Residents of Tel Aviv and surrounding towns witnessed loud, low-flying maneuvers by Israel Air Force jets on Saturday morning when the planes scrambled to intercept what was initially believed to be an intrusion by enemy aircraft into Israel’s airspace.

The intruder, which turned out to be a flock of birds, was detected inside Israeli airspace shortly before 10 a.m. The surprise intrusion triggered alarms in Israel’s aerial detection systems, leading the Air Force to scramble fighters to intercept.

The slow-moving, weak radar signal given off by the birds led to concern among defense officials that the object might be a small unmanned drone.

The IDF has intercepted such drones twice in the past 12 months, including in October 2012 and last April, when the IDF shot down a drone five miles off the coast of Haifa that the army said was collecting intelligence for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

The edge of the Yatir Forest on Saturday morning after the unidentified UAV was shot down by Israeli F-16s (Photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/ Flash 90)

The edge of the Yatir Forest, October 8, 2012, after a UAV was shot down by Israeli F-16s. (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/ Flash 90)

The fighters flew low over the towns of “Gush Dan” (the Dan Bloc), the Hebrew term for the Tel Aviv conurbation, leading to alarm and speculation among residents. The IDF rarely conducts training exercises on the Sabbath, so a Saturday deployment is usually thought to be a sign of imminent military action.

The alert lasted only a few minutes. Once the pilots verified that the unidentified flying object was a tight-knit flock of birds, the Air Force announced a stand-down and the pilots were ordered back to base.