The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Federation are offering a reward of up to $3,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person -- evidently a hunter -- who shot a bald eagle in Montgomery County this month.
Four deer hunters found the crippled bird Dec. 2 in the woods of Patuxent River State Park near Damascus. Its left wing was shattered. The men trapped the bird in a hunting coat and took it to a nearby farm. The eagle was rushed to the Fish and Wildlife Service's Patuxent Research Center in Laurel, but died on the operating table as a veterinarian worked to amputate the wing.
Dr. Chris Franson, the veterinarian, said the bird had a single wound, apparently from a rifled shotgun slug. Such oversized slugs are used by deer hunters in Montgomery County, where deer hunting with a rifle is illegal.
Firearms season for deer was open at the time and Tom Monahan, a D.C. policeman who was one of the hunters who found the eagle, said the wound appeared fresh.
Franson said that from the look of the wound, "I'd suspect the eagle was (shot while it was) sitting, but there's no way to be sure." He said it was an immature bird, probably hatched last spring.
The bald eagle, the national bird, is an endangered species under protection of federal law. About 20,000 to 35,000 winter in the United States, and about 5,000 summer here. Eagles are rare in Montgomery County, though the nearby Chesapeake region is one of four major nesting areas for bald eagles in the lower 48 states. Greg Stover, a USFWS special agent, said the last official sighting of a bald eagle in Montgomery was in 1975, but that hunters and fishermen occasionally see bald eagles around Triadelphia Reservoir, 2 1/2 miles downstream from where the injured eagle was found.
Jay Sheppard of the Federal Endangered Species office, said: "At any given time, there are probably between zero and two eagles in the county, more likely zero than two."
Patuxent River State Park, about eight miles southeast of Damascus, is a popular public deer hunting location.
Stover said he has interviewed hunters and farmers and followed several leads, but that he's at an impasse in finding the bird's killer. The USFWS has a standing reward of half the fine of anyone convicted (fines go up to $5,000) and the NWF has a standing $500 reward for information on eagle killers.
Dr. Stan Wiemeyer, the Patuxent Research Center's eagle specialist, said shooting remains, "to our knowledge, still the commonest cause of eagle mortality" in the nation. He said some people who shoot eagles apparently "know what they're doing, and others just shoot anything that moves."
Wiemeyer added: "Even if it's a case of mistaken identity, all birds of prey -- anything that even resembles an eagle -- are protected by federal law."
Monahan said he and his three hunting partners were awed by the bird's massive size. It was identified as an eagle by his hunting buddy, Pete Ruhl, a D.C. policeman who does taxidermy in his spare time.
Monahan said all four hunters were appalled by the shooting. "Hunters get a bad rap a lot of the time," he said. "But it was obvious that a hunter did this. We were just totally ticked off."