13 Bald Eagles Died in Mysterious Incident

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It’s a whodunit for the animal kingdom: State and federal wildlife officials are trying to find out what happened to 13 bald eagles that were discovered dead on Maryland’s Eastern Shore on Saturday.

The birds of prey were found on a farm in rural Caroline County, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) east of Washington, D.C. and just west of the 3,800-acre Idylwild Natural Area. A man looking for shed deer antlers found some of the birds and phoned state officials, who then found several more.

“We don’t know the cause of death yet and are asking the public for help with information,” says Catherine Hibbard, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is investigating the case along with the Maryland Natural Resources Police.

This eagle is one of 13 found dead on a farm in Maryland Saturday, raising big questions. Photograph by Maryland Natural Resources Police

Investigators are working the scene and are sending the bird carcasses to the federal forensic ornithology lab in Ashland, Oregon, to determine cause of death. Hibbard says it’s too early to speculate on how the birds died but says its highly unusual for that many eagles to be found dead in such a small area.

“Our special agent has never seen this many dead eagles in eight years on the job,” says Hibbard.

In recent years, officials have found a few eagles killed on the Eastern Shore from poisons that were put out by landowners to kill foxes or other animals, she adds. Eagles thatscavenge on the poisoned carcasses can take up the poisons themselves, sometimes to lethal effect.

“Never have we seen this many eagles involved,” Hibbard says, stressing that the investigation is ongoing.

The national symbol of the U.S., bald eagles were nearly wiped out by hunting, , and in the 20th century. However, they have rebounded in recent decades thanks to strict protections and banning of DDT, which caused their eggshells to be too thin. Bald eagles were officially removed from and status in the U.S. in 2007, although they arestill enjoy protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

If people are ultimately convicted of causing the death of the eagles, they could face a fine as high as $100,000 and prison time up to one year as a result of those acts.

Anyone with information about the eagles is being asked to call the USFWS at 410-228-2476 or Maryland’s investigators at 800-628-9944. A reward of $10,000 is being offered for information that leads to a conviction.

This article was first published by National Geographic on 22 Feb 2016.


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Cindy Wines

I live on the Clearwater River in Lenore Idaho. We have an eagles nest on the bridge to cross over the river to get to our home. They are beautiful and majestic birds. Someone must have used poison for the foxes or other wildlife (which should NOT be poisoned) to kill these birds. It is a dominoe affect and when they find out what killed them, I hope it is traced to the person that did this. No excuse. Leave our wildlife alone. No trapping, snaring drowning or shooting either. Let them be!!

Mikal Deese

Sorry, but I need to correct this post. The killers are called "Wildlife Services", a division of US Department of Agriculture. US Fish and Wildlife is the agency that protects wildlife, through enforcement of laws such as the Migratory Bird Act and the issuance of permits for legal acts. You are absolutely correct about the actions of USDA Wildlife Services, so called. They are remarkable free from oversight as they protect farming and ranching commercial interests by killing our wild ones.

Kate Dougherty

The biggest killers of wildlife in the US, is the US Fish and Wildife Services. They 100% kill on behalf of various corporations and industries. Since they have received negative press regarding their massive massacres of our wild animals, they have turned over some of the killing to their state countrparts, DNR's or FWS', to make it look like they are not such an ugly party. The FACT remains, we as taxpayers are handing another HUGE subsidies to industries who find wildlife, inconvient, to their bloated profits.

Linda French

If poisen is the cause there should be laws against poisen being used to kill any animals, and should be illegal. People are stupid when it comes to realizing the domino effect. Where I live we can not use poisen in the attic to kill mice, as people not thinking or just plain stupid where than throwing out the dead mice full of piosen and the birds, owls, wildlife were picking up the dead mice. It happened over and over, until the government stepped in and so NO poisens to kill anything…fine with me…

Heidi Bresilge

Absolutely horrible!! Even though poison has not been identified yet, poison should be illegal to use anywhere! The ripple effects are too catastrophic! This is a very sad loss!

Doris Charles

Dreadful waste these magnificent birds maybe there is chemicals on the farmland.