A pair of bald eagles are reportedly attacking a flock of sheep on an Idaho farm and have so far killed 54 animals.
Local outlet Magic Valley reported that Rocky Matthews, the owner of a farm near Murtaugh Lake in Idaho, originally thought someone was killing his lambs with a pellet gun after he discovered the dead animals. “The animals all had puncture wounds the circumference of a No. 2 pencil,” the outlet reported.
Once he witnessed an eagle go after the flock, he understood better what was responsible for the deaths. A large eagle nest has been on his property for over 20 years, but the birds have never had an effect on his farming process. As of right now, the nest provides a home to two adults and at least two baby eaglets.
“They’ve never crossed paths till this year,” he said. “The damage under the hide is a hundredfold from what you see on the exterior.”
Since the first lamb died, Matthews has lost around $7,500 in revenue from 54 dead lambs. In just one day, Matthews lost a total of seven animals.
“I truly think he was just honing his skills because you don’t kill seven of them out of need, ” he said about the eagle.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional wildlife biologist Lyn Snoddy told the outlet that eagles attack animals from the air and utilize their talons to grab them. With this method, they can sever internal arteries and wait until the animal bleeds to death. Snoddy reportedly said that eagles’ main source of food is fish, but they have gone after smaller mammals, as well.
“The situation is unusual because the nest is located just above a pasture. Eagle-related livestock deaths don’t happen in large enough numbers to cause alarm, Snoddy said,” the outlet noted.
Matthews’ own theory is that the Murtaugh Lake water took a longer amount of time to warm up this season, which resulted in fewer carp in the body of water for the eagles. This may have led the eagles to look for different sources of food.
There are several laws protecting eagles, including the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act which “prohibits anyone, without a permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior, from ‘taking’ bald or golden eagles, including their parts… nests, or eggs.” Violating the Act can lead to a fine of $100,000, imprisonment for one year, or both, for a first offense.
Matthews was ultimately presented with two scenarios. “He could apply for a Federal Migratory Bird Depredation permit with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or he could move his animals to another pasture. This hazing permit provides short-term relief until long-term nonlethal measures can be taken,” the outlet reported.
Matthews originally decided to transport his flock to a different location instead of waiting for the paperwork to go through, saying, “In 45 days, I’ll be out of sheep.” He was also concerned about the eaglets and was unsure if they would live if their parents were scared away.
Matthews moved the lambs to a different area, but then the eagles started going after the older animals ranging from 12 to 80 pounds. He and his wife then “filled out the paperwork and, if approved, they will get paid 75% of the market value of the livestock,” the outlet noted.
“In our mind, doing the right thing is just trying to wait it out,” he said.