Officials probe mysterious poisoning deaths of 7 bald eagles

PHOTO: An American bald eagle carries away dinner at a prime fishing ground below Conowingo Dam in Harford County, Md., Nov. 29, 2012.PlayThe Washington Post/Getty Images, FILE
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Seven bald eagles and a great horned owl have been found dead along the eastern shore of Maryland in recent months, and officials say the deaths might be linked to the intentional poisoning of "nuisance" animals like foxes and raccoons.

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The poisonings were “consistent with the suspected on-going and intentional poisoning of foxes, raccoons and other nuisance animals in the area," the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said in a statement.

Bald Eagles are no longer listed under the Endangered Species Act but are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, according to the statement. Violations of the act could carry fines and the possibility of up to two years in prison.

Officials said that six bald eagles and a great horned owl were found dead in Kent County on March 1, and that additional bald eagles were found alive, with "significant injuries," and treated. A seventh eagle was found dead alongside two more sickly birds in early April at a farm in Talbot County. In that second incident, the eagles had been feeding on the carcass of a red fox, the statement said.

Officials said they believe the incidents “are related as a result of unknown persons placing baits laced with carbofuran, one of the most toxic carbamate pesticides, in fields, along woods lines and even directly into fox dens.” Whoever set the baits “did it so recklessly" that the poison was likely left out in the open, where any animal or person might have come across it, the statement said. Carbofuran -- sold to consumers as Furadan -- was blamed for millions of bird deaths each year until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the granular form of the pesticide in 1991, it said.

"Eagles probably are not the primary target of the poisoning. However, Furadan is so toxic that the eagles are secondarily poisoned after feeding on the poisoned primary target," officials said.

The discovery of the carcasses recalled the poisoning death of 13 eagles in Federalsburg, Maryland in 2016, which officials said had happened “under similar circumstances.”

“It is hard to believe that not one person has information of persons placing a toxic poison that has killed no fewer than twenty eagles in these areas. The only way this stops is if the local communities come forward with information,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Resident Agent in Charge Jay Pilgrim said in the statement.

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Maryland Natural Resources Police are offering a reward for up to $10,000 for information that helps the investigation, according to a news release from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.