- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Agents with the Missouri Department of Conservation are investigating the shooting deaths of two bald eagles over the span of less than a week.

Both eagles were found in southeast Missouri. Conservation Agent Eric Long said Thursday that neither had white on their heads or tail feathers, indicating they were likely less than 4 years old.

Bald eagles, the national bird, are protected by the federal Eagle Protection Act, and killing them can result in a $250,000 fine and up to two years in prison.

Investigators don’t know the motive for the shootings, but confusion is no excuse, Long said: Other large birds like hawks, vultures and owls are protected, too.

The first eagle was found Jan. 25 on a county road near Patterson in Wayne County. A resident notified the conservation department, which rescued the bird, though it later died. An X-ray showed bullet fragments in the eagle’s body.

The second eagle was found Friday on Highway 106 near Ellington in Reynolds County. Long said it was already dead by the time he arrived.

The towns are about 40 miles apart, and Long said investigators don’t know whether the shootings are connected.

“It could be coincidence, it could be a copycat,” Long said.

Eagles are more commonly seen along waterways of eastern Missouri in the winter as they seek fish and other food in places where the water has not frozen. The shooting in Reynolds County occurred near a drainage area.

Long said he wasn’t sure of the gender of the two eagles.

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