Can an eagle steal a sheep?
There is nothing sadder than to see an eagle in a cage. Its powerful talons clasp a derisory piece of dead wood it has been given as a perch. This magnificent bird, used to flying through the vast empty sky, sits motionless and fixes the visitors with its solemn gaze- a gaze made all the more disturbing by the horizontal bar of its upper eyebrow.
The eagle is a predator, a bird of prey. Like all predators it has been accused of all sorts of misdeeds: stealing sheep or goats, carrying off cats and poultry. Some of these charges are ridiculous. It is impossible for the eagle to lift something heavier than itself. It could carry off a very small lamb or a new-born kid, but not a goat or a sheep! If an eagle does eat these animals it is because they are already dead; in this case it can dismember them and take the pieces off to it nest (also known as an eyrie). It is quite possible for it to catch a cat since, unfortunately, a cat tastes very much like a rabbit (of which the eagle is very fond!) but the 'rabbit' could put up quite a fight!
In Austria, a country of mountains and pasture-land, eagles have been slaughtered in great numbers. These massacres were always followed by a growth in illness in domestic animals and a frightening increase in the number of snakes. Like all predators, birds of prey mainly attack weak or sick animals. In this way it helps keep animals in flocks and farmyards healthy. Also, when it is hungry it is quite happy to eat snakes, rats and carrion.
The absolute protection of eagles has become law, but in France, for example, the number of eagle couples can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Scotland, too, protects its eagles. We now know that birds of prey are useful animals; whether they come out during the day or are nocturnal they play a very important part in keeping a natural balance. Their often forbidding appearance (the hooked beak and sharp talons) have helped give credence to tales of their misdeeds, and with the additional help of ignorance, these birds are now amongst the most severely threatened species in the world.