BLUFFTON, S.C. - Two agencies are hoping a $1,000 reward will help them land their prey - whoever was responsible for shooting an adult American bald eagle to death last week.
The eagle, a male, was last seen alive Friday afternoon by Palmetto Bluff residents near Bluffton. It appeared to be injured and was standing on one leg. Residents of Palmetto Bluff Road later found the eagle dead and reported it to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources on Friday night.
"The eagle was hit three times with number 9 size shotgun pellets," said DNR wildlife biologist Tom Murphy, who manages the Bald Eagle Restoration Project. DNR spokesman Mike Willis said pellets of that size are often used to hunt birds, but the only fowl in season late last week were turkeys.
"I just can't see someone mistaking an eagle for a turkey," Mr. Willis said.
Mr. Murphy said the male had a "brood patch" on its abdomen, meaning it was actively nesting and assisting its mate in raising their chicks.
"The loss of this bird could possibly result in the loss of the nesting chicks as well," he said.
Mr. Willis said no one was sure where the eagle was nesting, although it didn't appear to be the nest at Palmetto Bluff around which developers are building a golf course and homes. Mr. Willis said biologists were looking into the location of the bird's nest Monday afternoon.
Molly Carrington, who lives across the May River from the Palmetto Bluff nest, said the dead eagle was apparently a "visiting eagle" and not one of the pair nesting on the bluff.
If it turns out to be the Palmetto Bluff eagle, though, Mr. Willis said the "exclusion zones" limiting development near the nest would still apply because the female would be unlikely to leave the nest. He said she'd probably find a new mate.
Karen Robertson, a spokeswoman for Palmetto Bluff's developers, said employees haven't seen either eagle for awhile and are beginning to worry.
"We got the news (but) we don't know if its ours. We have no way or knowing if it's ours," she said. "Like the rest of the community, we are outraged that someone would do this. If anyone has any information please come forward and let us know."
She concurred that the exclusion zone would probably still apply around the nest since the nest itself and, presumably, the female are still there. Town Manager Bruce Behrens also agreed.
"We will be anxious to learn the rest of the story: who did this and why," Ms. Robertson said.
DNR conservation officers took the eagle's carcass to the South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw for examination. Director Jim Elliott said the eagle was most likely shot Thursday or Friday. Two pellets were found in the bird's right wing and one in its neck.
The eagle and its mate were one of 163 nesting pairs on record in South Carolina. There were 162 reported last year.
Bald eagles are protected by state and federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act. Anyone convicted of killing a bald eagle faces state penalties of a $1,000 fine and a year in jail. There are also federal penalties. The DNR and the South Carolina Center for Birds of Prey are offering a reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
Anyone with information on the shooting can call the DNR's Coast Watch Hotline at (800) 922-5431. Any caller's identity and all information will be kept confidential.