This story was updated at 3:15 p.m., Jan. 6, 2014.
Within the past few weeks, several people posted on the Olney-Brookeville Exchange Yahoo Group about seeing majestic bald eagles soaring over the Olney/Brookeville area. That joy turned to sorrow and anger after Maryland Natural Resources Police reported that two bald eagles were killed in Montgomery County over the past week.
Maryland Natural Resources Police spokeswoman Candus Thomson said an eagle was shot with a rifle at about 3 p.m. on Christmas Day in a field at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Bordly Drive in Brookeville.
She said residents were out walking and taking photographs when they heard the shot, and saw the eagle dead next to a deer carcass that it had been feeding on.
On Dec. 28, a mature eagle was found near a residence on Deakins Lane in Darnestown. The bird was found alive, but later died of its injuries. An X-ray revealed it had been hit by birdshot, a type of shotgun shell.
The incidents are thought to be unrelated.
Thomson said that as of Monday afternoon, they had received several leads and are in the process of investigating them.
“The public certainly took this to heart,” said Thomson. “We hope the information will lead to something.”
Bald eagles are in their active courtship period right now, Thomson said. In late February or early March, eagles along the upper Chesapeake Bay and inland lay eggs that hatch in April.
She said that because eagles are fishing birds, it is not surprising to see them in the Brookeville area because of its proximity to the Tridelphia Reservoir, or Darnestown, which is close to the Potomac River.
Thomson said she understands why people get excited about seeing them.
“Even though they are no longer on the endangered species list, they are still protected by federal law,” she said. “They are our national bird, and are just wonderful to look at.”
Thomson said the eagle killed in Brookeville was still immature, and did not have the complete white feathers on its head yet.
“Someone probably thought it was a vulture because they didn’t see the white feathers, but the number one rule when hunting is knowing what you are shooting, and what is behind it,” she said.
In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act, and Maryland followed suit in 2010. It remains illegal to shoot eagles without a permit from the U.S. Department of the Interior. A conviction carries a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to a one year in prison.
Anyone with information on the shootings is asked to call the Department of Natural Resources Communications Center at 410-260-8888 or can remain anonymous on the catch-a-poacher hotline at 1-800-635-6124, where a reward is possible.