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Death of 13 Bald Eagles Remains Mystery as Reward Increases

National Geographic

Is the discovery of 13 dead bald eagles an impending omen or Biblical prophecy, or a simple case of unintentional poisoning? 

Glenn Breeder of Federalsburg, Maryland was hunting deer sheds on a neighbor's farm property when he spotted what he initially thought was a dead turkey. Upon looking more closely Breeder realized that the dead bird was a bald eagle. He then found three additional dead eagles in the immediate vicinity.

Breeder and landowner Bob Edgehill, who had also found the dead birds on his property the same day, called the Maryland Natural Resources Police to inform the agency of their discovery. Officers searched and found an additional nine dead bald eagles on the property.

That's where this mystery begins.

None of the eagles appeared to have any signs of outward trauma, dispelling the possibility that they had been shot or otherwise externally attacked. Three of the eagles were mature adults, with the iconic bald eagle appearance of white head and tail feathers. The ten remaining birds were immature or "teenagers", so to speak.

The number of deceased eagles here makes this a "mass die-off", and is the largest such incident involving eagles in Maryland in 30 years. So said Candy Thomson, spokesperson for the Maryland Natural Resources Police. The incident she referred to that occurred 30 years ago involved eight dead eagles that were suspected of ingesting poison.

"It happens occasionally where someone will put out poison to get rid of rodents," said Thomson, "either a homeowner or a farmer, and, you know, eagles are attracted by dead animals. A bunch of dead rodents might attract a whole bunch of eagles. But we don't know."

So, authorities collected the birds and sent them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon, to be autopsied to determine cause of death. Officers continued their investigation in the immediate area by going door to door in hope of finding leads, as well as making an online request for information on the agency facebook page. They also offered a reward of $10,000 for information that might lead to a resolution to the case.

The story made national news, and a few days later the $10,000 reward was raised to $25,000 when the non-profit animal protection group, Center for Biological Diversity, added an additional $15,000 to the pot.

It's too early to know what exactly happened to cause the death of these 13 bald eagles. Autopsy results are expected to be revealed in a couple of weeks. But "too early" has never stopped people from speculating or making assumptions.

Center for Biological Diversity attorney Catherine Kilduff suggested nefarious action concerning the bird deaths: "If they were poisoned or shot," she said, "the heartbreaking deaths of these 13 bald eagles is a crime. Those responsible need to be caught and prosecuted."

Some others suggested in comments on CNN's facebook report of the story, that hunters were the likely perpetrators (count on anti-hunters to never let an opportunity to ignorantly blame hunters, nevermind that the story clearly reports that the birds were not shot), and that when found the guilty parties should receive either a life sentence or, preferably, be executed. Some people are too ridiculous to even respond to.

One the more creative speculations of the eagles' deaths involve the number of dead birds - 13 - and Biblical references and prophecy. Political motivations and secret society machinations are credited for the eagle deaths by others.

I mention these "far out" hypotheses only as an additional point of interest and curiosity. A few of the responses from some people remind a little bit of the exaggeration and emotional extremism that was on display during the Cecil the lion story of last summer. Let's hope that it is not discovered that any of these eagles had an adorable human name.

In any event, when the findings are made public we will be sure to let you know.

American bald eagles are no longer listed as an endangered species. They were delisted as such in 2007. They are, however, still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Killing a bald eagle is serious business, with potential fines of up to $115,000 and imprisonment for up to a year.


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Death of 13 Bald Eagles Remains Mystery as Reward Increases