I recently reported on the conflict between Black Vultures and farmers that is inspiring measures in several US states allowing the raptors to be culled by livestock producers. This conflict is complex and multi-faceted, but the gist of it is that Black Vultures are protected native birds, but as their populations increase more and more farmers are reporting losing livestock to the birds. Some experts believe that reports are exaggerated, as vultures don’t tend to target healthy living animals. Research is ongoing as far as the extent of Black Vulture predation and the most ethical and ecologically conscious ways that this conflict might be addressed.
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What’s fascinating to me is the fact that, as this conflict is unfolding in much of the United States, dairy farmers in Washington continue to strengthen their mutually beneficial relationship with raptors, especially the Bald Eagle. A recent article by Rebecca Dzombak of Civil Eats examines the symbiotic relationship that several Washington state dairy farmers have formed with their local raptors.
On key difference to note is that Bald Eagles may sometimes be considered nuisances by farmers with smaller livestock, chickens or other birds, they do not have the vicious reputation that Black Vultures have gained for potentially preying on live calves, goats, sheep, and pigs. They have, however, occasionally been known to prey on livestock, with one unusual case reporting over 50 sheep killed by Bald Eagles on a single farm. Considering this, it is fascinating to see the relationships between farmers and raptors play out in such different ways.
In Washington, Bald Eagles are allowed to feed on placentas and dead livestock. In exchange, the eagles clean up carcasses, reducing diseases, and act as deterrents against other nuisance birds. Invasive pest birds like European Starlings are kept at bay by the presence of a thriving Bald Eagle population. The same scavenging behavior that escalates tensions to the point of inspiring legislature to allow for culling in Black Vultures has fostered a cooperative relationship in Bald Eagles.
The extra food that this relationship provides to the eagles is essential, but even more so is the land that the farmers maintain. In a growing sea of pavement, the open fields and grasses of a dairy farm can become an essential habitat for all sorts of wildlife, Bald Eagles included.
In the future, a future marred by the uncertainty of ecological crises, such relationships may be key to finding a way forward. If agriculture and wild ecosystems can support each other, then the prosperous coexistence of human beings and the wildlife that we cohabitate with may be within reach.
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