And yet you can't help but root for the eagle. It is a magnificent creature, precision-built to do two things that reliably fill humans with awe -- fly and kill -- and it looks completely at ease doing both. Swooping down, the eagle unfurls its hand-like claws, scoops up a chicken, and sweeps up to a tree, whereupon the larger bird lays the smaller bird on a branch to allow for easy consumption. It's unclear exactly when the chicken dies, but the eagle's beak is quite effective at pulling out the other bird's meat. After a few minutes, all that remains is a clump of feathers and discarded viscera. These gory leavings splatter anything below the tall oaks at White Oak Pastures, a family farm in rural Georgia -- including, one morning, Jenni Harris's SUV.
Jenni's father, Will Harris, the fourth-generation owner of White Oak Pastures in the tiny town of Bluffton (population: 100), is laughing as he tells me about the gut-drenched vehicle. Jenni was unperturbed, he explains; she simply wiped the bloody goo off the windshield before driving away.
What else could she do? The slaughter here is relentless. White Oak is home to one of the largest pastured chicken flocks in the country; at any given time, 60,000 birds wander the land in accordance with pasture-raised parameters. As the next level beyond free-range, this farm never contains its adult birds indoors, instead allowing them to roam without restraint at all times. This also means that for the Bald Eagles that showed up a few years ago, White Oak is an all-you-can-eat buffet.
When I visited in January, at least 75 Bald Eagles were living on the farm, where they overwinter October to March. At that time, Harris estimated each raptor was killing up to four chickens a day, racking up a total of at least $1,000 in daily losses. Due to the birds' protected status under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and other federal laws, Harris had few options. He couldn't kill them. He could try to shoo them, but most methods would be costly and likely to scare the chickens before the eagles.
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On my recent trip to Alaska, I learned that bald eagles tend to be very, very lazy 'hunters'. Wonder why... ;)
I just don't like chickens.
Now we know who's pals with the Chick-Fil-A cows...