Thirteen bald eagles were found dead over the weekend near a farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in what authorities say is the largest single die-off of bald eagles in the state in 30 years.
Officials with the Maryland Natural Resources Police said they received a call about 2:30 p.m. Saturday from a man who said he was out looking for antlers that deer might have shed and came across what he initially thought was a dead turkey in a field on a farm in Caroline County. But he discovered it was actually four dead bald eagles.
When officers arrived, they found nine additional dead bald eagles in the field on Laurel Grove Road in Federalsburg.
It was not immediately clear what had caused the birds to die but one official said there were “no obvious signs of trauma with these birds,” according to Candy Thomson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Natural Resources Police.
The discovery of 13 dead bald eagles was the largest single incident in decades for the state, officials said. At least three of the birds were mature, with the signature white heads and brown bodies. Two of the birds were close to being mature birds, officials said, and the rest were considered immature birds with no white feathers.
“It’s been 30 years since we’ve seen anything like this involving this many dead bald eagles,” Thomson said. “Three mature eagles, the ones we all love that look like the national bird, are gone.”
“It’s sad that we have three eagles of mating ability that have been eliminated from our population.”
A reward of $2,500 is being offered for information in the case.
Thomson said the birds were tagged and the scene was photographed. The natural resources police and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating the incident.
Officials with the federal agency said the carcasses will be sent to a forensic lab they have in Oregon.
“This is significant,” said Catherine Hibbard, a spokeswoman for the federal fish and wildlife service. She said one of the investigators on the case said “he’s never seen that many dead at one time” in his eight years of work on the Eastern Shore.
Thirty years ago, officials said eight bald eagles were found dead in Maryland. It was not immediately known by officials what caused those birds to die.
And two years ago, two bald eagles were shot and killed in Montgomery County. It is illegal to shoot eagles without a permit from the U.S. Department of the Interior.
In this latest case, officials said, one possibility of what happened to the birds is that they ate carcasses of dead animals that had ingested poison, officials said.
The Baltimore Sun was among the first news outlets to report on the incident.
Bald eagles are no longer on the endangered species list, but they are considered a protected species, according to the Natural Resources Police.