State and federal wildlife officials are investigating the deaths of at least seven bald eagles and a great horned owl on the Eastern Shore this spring, saying they signal a “systemic” problem with use of an illegal poison on the Delmarva Peninsula.
The birds died under similar circumstances as 13 eagles found dead near Federalsburg in 2016.
Authorities believe they were killed by carbofuran, a banned chemical used to kill farm pests such as foxes and raccoons that is highly toxic to birds.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife investigator urged anyone with information about what authorities are calling “reckless” use of the poison to come forward. In the years since the eagles died near Federalsburg, the agency has interviewed “numerous” landowners, farmers and hunters, but none provided any insights into the poisonings.
“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,” Agent in Charge Jay Pilgrim said in a statement. “The only way this stops is if the local communities come forward with information.”
Maryland Natural Resources Police said the poisonings appear “to be a problem systemic to Maryland and specifically to the northern Delmarva Peninsula.”
The first known poisoning this year occurred March 1 near Route 445 and Swan Creek Road in Chestertown, the authorities said. They found six bald eagles and a great horned owl there dead, along with other eagles that were treated for “significant injuries.”
Since then, police said authorities have returned to the area “on several occasions” when landowners and property managers have reported finding additional eagle carcasses. Police did not say how many had been found.
On April 3, authorities were called to a farm near Lewistown and Colby roads in the Cordova area of Talbot County where three bald eagles showed signs of poisoning after feeding on the carcass of a red fox. One of the eagles died at the scene; the others were treated and are in stable condition, police said.
Police believe the deaths can be linked to bait laced with carbofuran, sold under the trade name Furadan. It is so toxic that the birds can be killed even by indirect exposure, if the poison was first consumed by an animal upon which a bird feeds.
The Environmental Protection Agency banned its granular form in the 1990s and its liquid form in 2009.
A report obtained by the Annapolis radio station WNAV confirmed that the eagles found in Federalsburg in 2016 were killed by carbofuran.
Amid a new spate of eagle deaths, authorities say that they believe the poison is being used “recklessly” and was likely “lying out in the open for any animal or person to find,” police said. Supporting that idea, they said it was unusual for an owl to be poisoned because owls are not typically scavengers.
Bald eagles are federally protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The law prohibits killing, wounding, trapping, disturbing or possessing any eagle and carries penalties up to a $250,000 fine or two years in prison. The federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act also protects both bald eagles and great horned owls and hundreds of other bird species.
The fish and wildlife agency is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information that furthers the investigation.