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Eagle slayer myth hard to kill off

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Shaun Hollis, Yorke Peninsula Country Times

A trio of majestic wedge-tailed eagles rises out of the paddock stubble as our farm ute approaches.

On the back of the ute, three sheepdogs crane their heads curiously.

An investigation of the site from where the eagles emerged uncovers the remains of two small lamb carcasses.

Honiton farmer Matt Smith said he likes the huge birds living in the scrub beyond the bottom paddock because they help clean up the remains of any lambs which have become too weak to survive on their own.

He said he has never seen an eagle kill a healthy lamb on his farm.

“Eagles mainly only eat carcasses from what I can see, I’ve never seen them attack anything,” Mr Smith said.

“I reckon crows attack and are more savage than eagles, they’re more aggressive.

“They pick on lambs when they are still alive.

“The crows come in big murder packs, there’s heaps of them out in the paddocks at the moment.”

And foxes are posing the most danger during the current lambing season, he said.

However, wedge-tailed eagle expert Ian Falkenberg said, unfortunately, not all farmers feel the same way, and have pretty entrenched views about the eagles’ threat to lambs.

Despite multiple studies worldwide showing eagles take less than one per cent of healthy lambs, the myth continues to circulate they are hunted by eagles.

In the 1960s there was a bounty system to cull eagles but, since 1972, they have been a protected species, with large fines and the possibility of prosecution for anybody not following the rules.

Mr Falkenberg is using satellite trackers to map the behaviour of the huge birds — some with a wingspan of 2.3 metres — shedding new light on their hunting habits.

“I’m developing more of an awareness of how important eagles are to farming properties,” Mr Falkenberg said.

This includes cleaning up carcasses of dead animals to help prevent disease and hunting their favourite food, rabbits.

An eagle will eat about one rabbit per day, with a pair removing up to 700 of the pests per year from farming land.

“No question at all rabbits are their main food,” he said.

They also eat young foxes and crows, which are two of the biggest predators of lambs.

Young wedge-tailed eagles can travel vast distances in search of food, with one bird Mr Falkenberg has been tracking recently flying down the centre of Yorke Peninsula, to the Hay Plains, the Grampians, south-eastern South Australia, the Strzelecki Desert and Eyre Peninsula.

“In the past 60 days it’s travelled over 3000 kilometres,” Mr Falkenberg said.

Yorke Peninsula Country Times 16 April 2024

This article appeared in Yorke Peninsula Country Times, 16 April 2024.

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