ST. LOUIS -- Conservation officials in Missouri are worried about a rash of eagle killings around the state.
Ten eagles have been found shot to death or dead of apparent poisoning in recent months, and seven of the deaths are being investigated as suspicious, Larry Yamnitz, protection field chief for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said Friday.
Killing eagles violates both state and federal law. Those convicted can face up to a year in prison and a $5,000 find.
The number of eagle deaths is rising each year, said Dan Burleson, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A spokeswoman did not immediately know how many eagles have been intentionally killed nationwide this year.
The rise in killings is partly due to the fact that there are simply more eagles around. The once-endangered bald eagle has rebounded to the point that it was taken off the national endangered list a decade ago.
In some cases, eagles are killed for their feathers and talons, even though possessing either is illegal. In February, 40 bald eagle carcasses were discovered in a shallow grave at the Burrard Indian Band reserve in British Columbia. The legs and feathers had been cut off.
In Missouri, eagle killings tend to be opportunistic and random, Yamnitz said.
"Sometimes it's just orneriness," he said. "That's what happened in Reynolds County -- they hung the carcass on a sign, as kind of a trophy of some sort."
That case occurred Jan. 2. Three days later, a resident of Pulaski County found a bald eagle that had been shot and killed near Dixon.
Two eagles were killed in Gasconade County in mid-January. Another was shot to death in January on the Mississippi River north of St. Louis.
On Feb. 6, another Pulaski County resident found a bald eagle shot to death near Hancock.
And at least four eagles -- a bald eagle and three golden eagles -- may have died from poisoning in Laclede County. A hunter found the most recent of the dead birds last month. It wasn't clear if the other three were intentionally poisoned.
Other eagles have been found wounded or sick. Five eagles are currently being treated at the World Bird Sanctuary near St. Louis, though some were injured accidentally, said director Walter Crawford. One of them, a 1-year-old bald eagle, was struck by at least 24 shotgun pellets, including one that penetrated the bird's skull.
"A lot of us are veterans," Crawford said. "It kind of makes you mad to see your national symbol killed."
Yamnitz said the poisonings could be accidental, though nonetheless illegal. He said some property owners poison carcasses, hoping to kill off scavenging coyotes. But eagles feed off carcasses, too.
Shooting an eagle clearly is no accident, conservation officials said.
"There's nothing in the wild that looks like an eagle except a turkey vulture, and they're protected, too," Yamnitz said.
Eagles generally nest as far north as Alaska and northern Canada, but relocate to the south in the winter, congregating near rivers and lakes in search of fish. Missouri's winter eagle population -- estimated at 3,000 -- ranks in the top five in the nation, conservation department officials said.
"We have lots of flowing water, lots of dams," Yamnitz said. "At Clarksville or places like that you can see hundreds of eagles."
The World Bird Sanctuary and the conservation department are working together to raise awareness about eagles and laws against harming them. Crawford doubted there's much that can be done to stop "the good old boys out there with a gun that shoot anything that moves. But we're hoping to at least reach their children.
"It's said because we've come so far to bring these birds back," Crawford said.
On the Net:
Missouri Department of Conservation: www.conservation.state.mo.us
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: www.fws.gov
World Bird Sanctuary: www.worldbirdsanctuary.org