Thirteen bald eagles found dead on farmland in Maryland's Eastern Shore in the state's largest die-off of the birds in 30 years died from ingesting a banned pesticide, wildlife officials say. The carcasses of the eagles, mostly immature, were discovered in Federalsburg in February 2016 with no outward signs of distress. However, a six-month investigation by the Fish and Wildlife Service, first reported this week by WNAV, found five of six carcasses sent for testing included remains of an undigested raccoon containing carbofuran, a highly toxic pesticide previously blamed for the deaths of 2 million birds per year, reports the Washington Post. Though banned in the US in both granular and liquid forms, carbofuran is still used by some farmers to kill pest and predator animals like raccoons and coyotes, reports the New York Times.
"It probably wasn’t intentional to kill the eagles," but "it definitely was a human cause," says a wildlife service spokesperson. Despite that, and the fact that killing a bald eagle can result in a two-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine, officials closed the case without making any arrests. "It's very frustrating" but "there was no smoking gun," says investigator John LaCorte, who interviewed more than a dozen landowners and property managers about the case. The 89-year-old farmer on whose property the eagles were found near a tainted raccoon carcass denies ever using the pesticide, and LaCorte says he believes him. It's possible an eagle carried the raccoon to the property, he tells the Post, citing an "epidemic" of wildlife poisonings in the area. Across the country, though, bald eagles are making a "groundbreaking comeback," per Fox News. (Read more bald eagle stories.)