MAGIC VALLEY — For a span of 10 days Rocky Matthews, a Magic Valley farmer, kept finding dead or injured lambs on his farm. At first, he thought someone was shooting at them until one day he saw a bald eagle attack.
“Then one morning when I was out pushing the sheep the eagle swooped down and hit one of them and kind of lifted him and dropped him and took off, so I ran over there," Matthews said.
The attacks started happening during the second week of April. One morning he and his wife found seven lambs dead by eight a.m.
The following week they decided to get Fish and Game involved.
“At that point, we knew we had to call somebody in. It wasn’t just you know, wait it out or anything at that point so we called fish and game and they got us in contact with fish and wildlife services, and that gentlemen came out," Matthews said.
But the problem continued. And for a span of 20 days the bald eagles attacked 57 lambs. 54 died and three survived.
He says Fish and Game told him these types of scenarios are common, but finding the evidence is what's not common.
"He said we get calls and accounts of this all the time. But he says usually I show up and there’s not much you can prove," Matthews said.
Fish and Game worked with Matthews to try and come up with solutions for both the lambs and the eagles to coexist, even moving the lambs to a different location.
“It was kind of tough they tried moving the herd or the flock I guess closer to the house where the eagles might be less tempted to fly in. I think that only worked for a couple of days," Lynn Snoddy, Idaho Department of Fish and Game regional wildlife biologist, said.
Another option Matthew had was to remove the nest, but since bald eagles are protected by multiple federal laws the process to get a permit to do so could have taken months. Matthews says he also did not want to do that since there were at least two eaglets in the nest.
“We figured that wasn’t the right way to go about it. We didn’t really want them gone, they’ve been there 20 years, they have not posed a problem yet and then this year was different," Matthews said.
A possible reason for this, according to Matthews, is because the month of April took some time to warm up, meaning the carp in Murtaugh Lake that the eagles usually feed off were not swimming towards the top of the lake, which caused them to go without food.
“Well, this year there wasn’t a fish to be found during that period. The water was just cooler and the fish weren’t rising. I believe that’s what started it," Matthews said.
With the warmer weather, the eagles have not attacked his lambs since.
Fish and Game say it's unusual for bald eagles to attack sheep at all, and this situation should not be a concern for other farmers.
“It’s very unusual for bald eagles to try and take lambs at all. I’ve had some biologists call and say are you sure it was bald eagles?" Snoddy said.
Matthews estimates the loss has cost around $7,500 in revenue. He is currently working with the U.S.D.A. to get reimbursed.
“We feel pretty confident that we will get some reimbursement and that’s a godsend,” Matthews said.
He says he plans to build a shed to protect his lamb from future bald eagle attacks.