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An All-You-Can-Eat Buffet: Bald Eagles Prey On Farmer's Chickens


Will Harris has an unusual problem. He's a sustainable farmer and he loves nature, but his chickens are getting eaten by bald eagles. Jacob Goldstein from our Planet Money podcast has the story of what happens when your effort to live in harmony with nature bumps up against nature.

JACOB GOLDSTEIN, BYLINE: The first pair of bald eagles showed up about a year after Will Harris brought chickens to his farm.

WILL HARRIS: Well, I was very excited about it. I thought it was great. You know, I mean, I love natural systems. And I love nature. And I thought it was fantastic.

GOLDSTEIN: Will knew the Eagles were killing some of us chickens, but he figured I have thousands of chickens and it's just a couple eagles.

HARRIS: It was that two or three. The next year there was maybe 10 or 12. It blew up fairly quickly. Next year maybe 30 or 40. Last year they said it was 77.

GOLDSTEIN: Will's farm is in Bluffton, Georgia. Winter is peak Eagle season. And Will says the eagles are now killing a hundred or more of his chickens every day, thousands of chickens a month, more than $100,000 a year in lost chickens according to Will. His chickens are scattered in flocks all over his farm. And to see the eagle damage, you just go out to where the chickens are.

Some of them are out in the grass. Some of them are kind of chilling out under around this tree over there.

HARRIS: A few under the chicken house. Some are eating the feed, drinking the water.

GOLDSTEIN: I feel like these chickens are living the dream, but for one thing, right?

Bald eagles, they're just sitting there in the trees right at the edge of the field. And right in the middle of this chicken paradise we're standing in are chickens the eagles have killed.

So this - what we're looking at here is the back half of a chicken, right? There's feet and legs, but the top half is essentially gone.

HARRIS: He just - he - the eagle ate his way into the body cavity.

GOLDSTEIN: But then there's this other chicken three feet away. It's also dead, but...

HARRIS: This chicken was just killed because it was fun. The eagle struck it, but ate nothing.

GOLDSTEIN: Will Harris completely transformed his farm to live in harmony with nature. And now nature is sticking its head into his body cavity and eating his financial guts out. Federal law prohibits killing bald eagles. But last year, Will was granted a special permit to harass them. So now he's trying all these ways to basically make the eagles go away.

He bought one of those giant inflatable people you see outside car washes, got a noise cannon. And Will's poultry manager, Jeff Lackey, showed me one other thing they're trying. We drove out to a flock of chickens, spotted an eagle, and Jeff pulled out this, like, cap gun and some ammunition.

JEFF LACKEY: Black end goes into the gun.

GOLDSTEIN: So those look like little firecrackers, basically.


GOLDSTEIN: What's it say?

LACKEY: Bird Banger, warning, danger.

GOLDSTEIN: He pulled the trigger.


GOLDSTEIN: The firecracker shoots out like 25 feet and explodes in mid-air, and the eagle flies away.

LACKEY: Did you see on the backside of that tree? Oh, there - here is one right now.

GOLDSTEIN: But, Will says, even when the eagles fly away, they always come back later to eat more chickens. There is another way Will might be able to keep this chicken business going, it's a federal program that pays farmers whose livestock are killed by protected animals like, say, bald eagles.

Has the government given you any money for the eagles killing your chickens?


GOLDSTEIN: Not one dollar?

HARRIS: Not one dollar.

GOLDSTEIN: How much do you think they should give you?

HARRIS: The maximum is $125,000 per year. And they owe me that for '15 and '16.

GOLDSTEIN: A government spokesperson told me the case is under review by the local office, and they're not allowed to discuss the details. But Will Harris is clearly resourceful, and now he's trying something new. At one point as we're driving around the farm, Will stops to talk to the driver of a pickup truck.

HARRIS: Hey. How are y'all?

GOLDSTEIN: In the bed there's a photographer with a camera with this giant telephoto lens. People come to the farm now to see the eagles. Will had an eagle day just before I visited. He also rents out cabins to visitors.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right, we'll see you after a while.

HARRIS: All right, I'll be around.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They got some good pictures this morning.

HARRIS: I'm glad.

GOLDSTEIN: Will Harris is getting into the eagle tourism business. Jacob Goldstein, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jacob Goldstein is an NPR correspondent and co-host of the Planet Money podcast. He is the author of the book Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing.