One of Maryland’s rarest birds has been shot and killed in what state natural resources officials called a heartbreaking and incomprehensible crime.

The remains of a female northern goshawk, described as a large, powerful and secretive bird of prey, were found last week in the Savage River State Forest near Grantsville, in far western Maryland, the state Department of Natural Resources said. It had been struck by shotgun pellets.

Three of the bird’s chicks also were found dead. Without their mother’s protection, they probably fell victim to predators, a DNR official said.

“This was the only known nesting goshawk” in all of Maryland, the DNR said in a statement.

Describing the goshawk as an “amazing and beautiful animal” and “a symbol of Maryland’s last remaining wild places,” Jonathan McKnight, a DNR wildlife manager, called the motive for the killing “difficult to comprehend.”

Extensive timbering drove the goshawk, with its four-foot wing span, from Maryland about a hundred years ago. But, the agency said, improved forest habitat had enabled a comeback to begin about 10 years ago.

Yet no successful goshawk nest had been found in Maryland since 2006, the DNR said. “This was our only known breeding pair of goshawks, which makes this incident just that much more heartbreaking,” said DNR biologist Dave Brinker. He found the remains of the female and the chicks Friday.