On Saturday afternoon, a man went looking for shed deer antlers in a farm field in Federalsburg, Maryland, 20 miles west of Easton. What he found instead was a cluster of four dead bald eagles that he first mistook as turkeys.
He alerted the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which found an additional nine dead eagles in the surrounding area. “As far as we know, this is the largest single eagle die-off [in Maryland] in three decades,” Candy Thomson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Natural Resources Police, told Washingtonian.
Federal investigators with the US Fish and Wildlife Service have joined the Maryland DNR to look into how it happened, but Thomson suspects that poison was involved. People frequently put poison out to kill unwanted rodents. Those rodents die, and then eagles flock to eat them, accidentally ingesting the same poison.
The 13 eagle carcasses, which are now in a cold storage facility on the Eastern Shore, will be sent to a forensic wildlife lab in Oregon for further investigation.
Although bald eagles were removed from the federal list of endangered and threatened species list in 2007, they are still under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits the take, possession, sale, export or import of any dead or alive bald or golden eagle. As of 2015, there were an estimated 600 pairs in Maryland.
The troubling news comes after the American Eagle Foundation installed a 24/7 live feed of two nesting eagles in the National Arboretum on February 15. Aptly named “Mr. President” and “The First Lady,” they are the first eagle pair to nest in the arboretum since 1947. The two incubating eggs are expected to hatch in less than a month.