BROOKVILLE, Md. (WJZ) -- It's the proud national bird symbol of the United States, yet someone in Maryland is shooting them.
Jessica Kartalija explains not only is killing the bald eagle disturbing, it's illegal.
The birds are federally protected, but that didn't stop two people from shooting at them.
Bald eagles can be found year-round throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Now, after finding two with gunshot wounds, Natural Resources Police are searching for whoever pulled the trigger.
"A person out on Christmas Day heard a shot and saw an eagle laying dead in the field," said Candy Thomson, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police.
X-rays determined the eagle was shot with a rifle near Brookeville. Because the bird wasn't mature, there's a chance the shooter mistook it for a vulture or osprey. However, another was found dead three days later in Darnestown.
"The second one was a mature bird, so it had the full plumage that people know as the American symbol," Thomson said.
That means, if convicted, the shooter could be required to pay a $5,000 fine and spend a year behind bars.
The Chesapeake region is an important stop for bald eagles migrating to other parts of the country.
With some 5,000 pairs of bald eagle in the state, they aren't considered threatened or endangered in Maryland. Still, shooting them is illegal.
"The birds are still protected under the American Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act," said Thomson.
Investigators don't believe the two incidents are related. They took place on opposite sides of Montgomery County.
Police tell WJZ they have received several tips and are now investigating several leads.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police ask anyone with information to contact the 24-hour "Catch a Poacher" hotline at 1-800-635-6124.
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