What’s Killing the Bald Eagles? Mysterious Circumstances Surround the Death of 18 Endangered Birds
There is a strange phenomenon occurring with the endangered bald eagle population in Maryland: 18 of the magnificent birds have died in recent weeks, and wildlife investigators are stumped as to why.
As reported by National Geographic, a person in Sussex County, Delaware, called state officials in recent days to report finding several disoriented bald eagles in a farm field. Three of the birds later died in transport following failed resuscitation efforts while the remaining pair were transferred to a rescue center.
A mile away, someone else discovered another dead eagle, and days after that a fifth bird was found dead and another injured after investigators went back to the field for a follow-up.
This comes after a previous discovery of 13 dead bald eagles – and not of natural causes – along Maryland’s Eastern Shore, only 30 miles away, bringing the total up to 18. And again, so far investigators don’t have a clue as to why the birds are suddenly dying.
“We’re not at that point yet where we know the cause of death,” Catherine Hibbard, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is examining the case along with the Delaware Natural Resources Police, told National Geographic.
‘We don’t know yet’
Officials have sent the dead birds off to the federal forensic ornithology lab in Ashland, Oregon, to try and find out what is killing them. As of this writing, investigators have been unable to find a link between the deaths in Delaware and those in Maryland.
“But if anything from the investigation suggests that, we’ll look at it more closely,” Hibbard added.
Hibbard considers the death of as many as 13 bald eagles fairly significant, but she says it is not as surprising for smaller numbers of birds to die off. In the past couple of years along the Eastern Shore, officials have found a few bald eagles that had died from ingesting poisons that landowners had set out to get rid of foxes and other animals, she said last month.
There have been other man-caused deaths of the country’s national bird as well. As reported by The Associated Press in September 2013, wind farms around the country killed 67 golden and bald eagles over a five-year span, according to a government study.
Fines and jail for intentional killing
The research was some of the first aimed at tying eagle deaths to the nation’s growing wind energy industry. In some quarters, the data were seen as a blow to President Obama’s efforts to convert more U.S. power to renewable energy.
At a minimum, the researchers wrote, wind farms in 10 states have killed at least 85 eagles stretching all the way back to 1997, with most of those occurring between 2008 and 2012, when the industry really began to expand. Most of those deaths were of golden eagles that had become lodged in wind turbines.
That said, overall, the picture for bald eagles has been improving. As National Geographic reported in February:
“The national symbol of the U.S., bald eagles were nearly wiped out by hunting, pesticides, and habitat loss 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 endangered and threatened status in the U.S. in 2007, although they are still protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”
Intentionally killing a protected eagle could cost the offender as much as $100,000 in fines and up to a year in prison.
“After all that’s been done to get bald eagles off the endangered species list, it’s disturbing to see these eagles die,” Hibbard lamented.