Someone is killing bald eagles (and other animals the birds scavenged on). Reward for information offered.
Federalsburg, Maryland – February 2016
13 bald eagles died in February of 2016 in Federalsburg, Md. The second Freedom of Information Act request I submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the first was denied) showed the birds died by secondary poisoning from carbofuran, a federally banned pesticide. They had eaten a raccoon that had been poisoned. But wait, there are more.
Easton, Maryland – January 2017
In another case, Troy Whaley of Easton, Md., was driving past a field in Easton in 2017, thought he saw something odd and drove back. It wasn’t pretty – dead and dying bald eagles, along with the fox the birds had dined on. More FOIA’s submitted and the results showed the fox had been poisoned with carborfuran. Five bald eagles were dead from secondary poisoning by carbofuran. That’s 18 dead bald eagles, but wait, there are more.
Dagsboro, Delaware – March 2016
Only a month after the 13 Federalsburg eagles were discovered, about 47 miles away, nine bald eagles were found – they were dead or in distress. These were in Dagsboro, De. I’m awaiting results from my second FOIA submitted to the USFWS for that case, but I believe a total of five died, although Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control reported four deaths. The first FOIA (submitted to USFWS in 2018) was denied because of an open law enforcement case. That means the USFWS was still looking for the suspect(s).
Those cover the 2016 and 2017 cases I know about and for those keeping track, like I do, that’s a total of 23 dead bald eagles.
Pedricktown, NJ – April 2018
That brings us to 2018 – the place is Pedricktown, NJ. Geographically, it’s right above the Delmarva Peninsula – as the eagle flies, it’s not far. In an article (worth reading) for the Conserve Wildlife Foundation for NJ Blog, Kathy Clark, Endangered & Nongame Species Program, NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife, wrote, ” On Sunday, April 15th, I got a call that three bald eagles were spotted in a farm field. Not too unusual in rural Salem County, but this good neighbor was rightly concerned that something was wrong. Pedricktown resident Steve Wilson approached the eagles and not only did they not fly away from him, but two could barely sit upright and a third was stumbling away.” Kathy continued, “The circumstances required fast action: Steve noted that the three eagles were near a dead red fox, and suspected the fox was poisoned and the eagles were suffering secondary effects after scavenging the carcass.” Two of the bald eagles survived -the third did not. Do these circumstances sound familiar? To me, they did and I reached out to the wildlife veterinarian who treated the birds – Dr. Erica Miller. She emailed me, “Based on the history, clinical signs and response to treatment, I believe these birds were affected by carbofuran. It was certainly some type of cholinesterase inhibitor. Ryan Bessey, USFWS sent the fox carcass and the one eagle carcass to the Ashland lab for diagnostics. I believe the case is still under investigation, so I haven’t been privy to actual findings.” I haven’t submitted a FOIA for that case. That brings us to 24 dead bald eagles.
Eastern Shore of Virginia – March 2013
Let’s go back to 2013 before moving to the present. The place is the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Five bald eagles were found – one survived. It was originally thought this was a case of lead poisoning, but the Wildlife Center of Virginia, who treated the surviving eagle, updated that to carbofuran poisoning. They wrote on their blog, “Post-release postscript: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the deaths of the four other eagles were caused by carbofuran pesticide poisoning. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services has an open investigation of the case and is still seeking information.” No need for a FOIA there – confirmed carbofuran. That brings us to 28 dead bald eagles.
Chestertown, Maryland – March 2019 and Cordova, Maryland – April 2019
That brings us to 2019. In March and April, according to a joint release issued by Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) and the USFWS, there are seven more dead bald eagles. That brings us to 35 dead bald eagles.
The whole release is below because it has a lot of good information. I know some get upset by seeing the term, ‘nuisance wildlife,’ but there’s something you need to keep in mind here. Language used in press releases might be deliberate. All or most of these cases happened on or very near farm fields and all in rural communities – where farmers might be viewing wildlife as nuisances.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) are asking the public for information about a series of poisoning events on the eastern shore of Maryland in Kent and Talbot counties.
The first incident, occurring in Kent County on March 1, 2019 near Route 445 and Swan Creek Road in Chestertown, Maryland, resulted in the deaths of six bald eagles, a great horned owl and significant injuries to other eagles that were rescued and treated. The activity is consistent with the suspected on-going and intentional poisoning of foxes, raccoons and other nuisance animals in the area. USFWS agents and NRP officers have returned to the area on several occasions since the initial incident and retrieved eagle carcasses that were discovered and reported by local land owners and property managers.
On April 3, 2019, authorities were called to a farm in Talbot County, near Lewistown Road and Colby Road in Cordova, Maryland, where they discovered three bald eagles showing signs of poisoning. The eagles had been feeding on a red fox carcass. Two of the eagles were treated for poisoning and are in stable condition. One of the eagles died at the scene.
It is suspected that these events 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. Carbofuran, sold under the trade name Furadan, is known to be particularly toxic to birds. In its granular form, a single grain will kill a bird. Birds often eat numerous grains of the pesticide, mistaking them for seeds, and then die shortly thereafter. Before the granular form was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1991, it was blamed for millions of bird deaths per year. The liquid version of the pesticide is less hazardous to birds since they are not as likely to ingest it directly, but it is still very lethal when placed into bait.
The USFWS and NRP are urging anyone with relevant and specific information to come forward. 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. The incident in Kent County was different than the eagle deaths in that an owl, typically not a scavenger, was killed. The USFWS believes that whoever was placing the poisoned baits did it so recklessly that the poison was likely lying out in the open for any animal or person to find.
The USFWS and NRP are both disappointed and frustrated that this activity continues to occur in this area of Maryland, noting that thirteen eagles had been poisoned under similar circumstances back in February 2016 near Federalsburg, Maryland. There are legal methods and means of dealing with nuisance predators. This appears to be a problem systemic to Maryland and specifically to the northern Delmarva Peninsula. The USFWS and NRP have interviewed numerous persons including land owners, hunters and other persons associated with these areas. However, none of the individuals were able to provide any information on the poisonings. Resident Agent in Charge (RAC) Jay Pilgrim, who supervises USFWS efforts in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware, said this is a problem unique to this area of Maryland. RAC Pilgrim said, “It is hard to believe that not one person has information of persons placing a toxic poison out 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.” Although bald eagles are no longer listed under the Endangered Species Act, they are still federally protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The USFWS is offering a reward of up to $10,000 to eligible individuals for information that furthers this investigation.
Citizens who know about illegal fishing and hunting activities as well as the illegal killing of wildlife can make an anonymous report, 24/7, to Maryland Wildlife Crime Stoppers by calling or texting, 443-433-4112, email email@example.com, or report violations using the department’s free mobile app. Dispatchers will alert the nearest patrol officer. If the tip leads to the arrest and conviction, the Maryland Wildlife Crime Stoppers board of directors may issue a reward.
Maryland Wildlife Crime Stoppers does not receive any federal or state funding and depends solely on financial support from corporate, individual or public donations or gifts. The nonprofit organization serves as the state affiliate of International Wildlife Crime Stoppers, a group dedicated to stopping illegal hunting and fishing as well as the illegal killing of wildlife across the globe. Donations to Maryland Wildlife Crime Stoppers can be sent to: 1783 Forest Drive, Suite 328, Annapolis, Maryland 21401.
That brings us to a total of 35 bald eagles dead on or just above the Eastern Shore since 2013. Because there’s some uncertainty with the Dagsboro case, I might have to correct that number (it could be more or less) once and/or if I receive the FOIA results.
When One Bald Eagle Dies, it Really Isn’t Just One
If a bald eagle dies, it’s generations of bald eagles that won’t happen. Add to that, every single one of these cases happened during bald eagle nesting season. That means eggs or eaglets didn’t make it. Both parents are needed to tend to eggs and young eaglets.
Chris Eberly, director of the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership, said, “One bird stays in the nest until the young can stand to be not sheltered by an adult bird. If it’s an active nest and they have young – you have one less bird to bring food to the young. I think that impacts the probability of a successful nest.” He explained, eggs and young eaglets have to be sheltered to protect them from the cold/hypothermia, as well as other animals/birds. “They’re very vulnerable to predation at that point,” he said.
Proper Disposal of Pesticides
If you have DDT, carbofuran or other pesticides lying around, this is an interview I did last year.
And here’s a list of country-specific contacts for questions about pesticide disposal –
Are You a Farmer That Has Wildlife Issues? There’s a Nuisance Wildlife Hotline.
Are you a farmer or landowner with wildlife issues? On the WNAV post about the most recent cases, there was a comment about something that can help. Christine Thurber, who according to her Facebook profile, is a wildlife specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wrote, “the Maryland Department of Natural Resources- Wildlife & Heritage Service has partnered with USDA Wildlife Services to provide a toll-free Nuisance Wildlife Information Hotline for anyone looking for legal and safer ways to remedy nuisance wildlife issues, so things like this don’t happen. This is for the public to call and obtain permits and information, and would be great information to include in the above post or future articles. The phone number is 877-463-6497 and the website is here: http://dnr.maryland.gov/…/plants…/wildlifeproblems.aspx .”
What Else Can Be Done?
Because all of these cases happened on or near farms, I made several inquiries to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) last year. Jason Schellhardt, director of communications for the agency, emailed me (again, this was last year), “As far as outreach/education, MDA staff will incorporate a presentation on this issue as part of the re-certification requirements for licensed pesticide applicators throughout the state.”
But what if these deaths weren’t being caused by licensed pesticide applicators? I had the opportunity last year to ask the MDA Secretary Joseph Bartenfelder that. What else could be done?
I’ve reached back out to Jason – he was aware of these newest cases and I asked what else is being done. I’m awaiting reply and will update this as soon as I get something.
Two Interviews from 2018 About This Topic
WNAV’s Jane Schlegel interviews me.
In the following 2018 interview with Chris Eberly, Director of the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership, we discuss the eagle killings and that death by carbofuran isn’t pretty.
Washington Post article (from last year) with some good information – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2018/06/20/thirteen-bald-eagles-were-found-dead-in-a-field-this-is-what-killed-them/?utm_term=.a1004bd87b00
Reward – Up to $10,000
If you didn’t see the part about the reward, up to $10,000 is being offered to eligible individuals for information that furthers this investigation. Do you know who’s poisoning animals? Do you have any information that can help? You can make an anonymous report, 24/7, to Maryland Wildlife Crime Stoppers by calling or texting, 443-433-4112, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or report violations using the department’s free mobile app.
Author’s Background and Disclosure
I’m Donna L. Cole and I’m an Associated Press award-winning journalist, employed by WNAV. In my spare time, I began volunteering as a bald eagle nest monitor for the Maryland Bald Eagle Nest Monitoring Program in 2018. I monitor two nests – one in Annapolis and one in Centreville. I’ve been a wildlife photographer for years . WNAV, my employer, is a media partner of the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership. As such, we often share information that can help with conservation efforts.