Beginning in April, bald eagles started stealing sheep from Rocky Matthews, a rancher near Murtaugh Lake in Idaho.
Since then, 54 of his lambs have been poached by the birds, including 7 in one day, which were all reportedly killed by one eagle.
“I truly think he was just honing his skills because you don’t kill seven of them out of need.”
Initially, Matthews was unsure of what exactly was killing all of his lambs until he saw a bald eagle attack his flock from the sky. For a moment, he even thought someone was shooting them with pellet guns.
The eagles have been nesting on his ranch for more than 20 years without incident, but that all changed this year.
“They’ve never crossed paths till this year. The damage under the hide is a hundredfold from what you see on the exterior.”
He estimates the loses on those lambs have cost him roughly $7,500. He also hypothesizes the the eagles were drawn to his sheep because colder then usual water temperatures in the lake this time of year could have made fishing more challenging for the birds.
Mr. Matthews has since relocated his flock of sheep further away from the eagles and to an area with more barn cover. Meanwhile, Idaho Fish and Game has directed him to the Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program to explore potential solutions.
Since shooting the birds is not an option as with other livestock menacing predators, moving them was his only option. Eagles are federally protected, and those caught poaching them are potentially subject to up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Hopefully the new location works out for the better, because the current rate of predation is not sustainable for a ranching operation.
“In 45 days, I’ll be out of sheep.”
The neighboring state of Wyoming recently approved a plan to relocate a number of golden eagles with a similar habit of preying on sheep, but there is no indication that option is being explored in this instance.