A pair of bald eagles are attacking a flock of sheep near Murtagh Lake, Idaho. The birds have managed to kill 54 animals so far.
Rocky Matthews, owner of the farm, began finding dead lambs in April. He assumed someone had killed them with a pellet gun because of the small puncture wounds on their bodies.
Matthews didn’t realize the perpetrators were actually bald eagles until he watched one attack his flock. The birds will dive-bomb the sheep and stab them with their talons, then leave the sheep to bleed out and die.
According to the Magic Valley Times-News, a large eagle’s nest has existed on his property for the last 20 years but has never impacted ranching operations. They have now lost an estimated $7,500 in revenue from the 54 deaths.
Matthews speculated that because Murtaugh Lake took longer to heat up this year, perhaps a lack of fish in the shallows inspired the birds to try out new food sources. However, the eagles once killed seven lambs in a single day.
“I truly think he was just honing his skills because you don’t kill seven of them out of need,” Matthews said.
Eagles, America’s national symbol, are heavily protected under multiple federal laws, so the farm is faced with two options: file for a Federal Migratory Bird Depredation Permit with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or move the herd to a pasture far away from the nest. Applying for the permit costs $100 and can take 30 to 60 days to process. It essentially just allows for non-lethal hazing of the eagles, including loud noises, pyrotechnics, propane cannons, scarecrows, dogs, and trained raptors.
“In 45 days, I’ll be out of sheep,” Matthews said.
He also expressed concern for the survival of the two eaglets currently residing in the nest if he attempted to scare off the parents. He opted to move his sheep to another pasture.
After moving the lambs far away, the eagles continued to prey on the larger, older sheep that stayed close by. The targeted animals have ranged from 12 to 80 pounds.
Matthews and his wife, Becca, have filled out depredation claims which, if accepted, will grant them 75% of the market value of their losses. Considering the hit their farm has taken, Matthews has maintained a positive attitude about the eagles.
“In our mind, doing the right thing is just trying to wait it out,” he said. “They are cool birds that don’t know any better.”
Feature image via Larry Smith.