Men Hunted and Killed a Bald Eagle


Two Men Hunted and Killed a Bald Eagle in Nebraska, Sheriff Says

They had been hunting on private property when deputies found the men and asked them to show their kill, the sheriff said. Inside their trunk was the bald eagle.

Two men were charged with misdemeanors on Wednesday after they entered a private property in Nebraska, found a bald eagle perched on a tree and shot it at close range before hauling the large protected bird in their vehicle with the intent to eat it later, the authorities said.

The men, Ramiro Hernandez-Tziquin and Domingo Zetino-Hernandez, both 20, were charged with unlawful possession of an eagle, according to the Stanton County Sheriff’s Office. Though they apparently might not have known they had killed a bald eagle, the men, who are originally from Honduras and do not speak English, could face additional federal charges as officials investigate, the authorities said.

Mr. Hernandez-Tziquin and Mr. Zetino-Hernandez, who live in Norfolk, Neb., could not be reached on Wednesday night, and it was not immediately clear if they had lawyers.

The rare killing of a bald eagle, America’s national bird, jolted local authorities, including the sheriff in Stanton County, Mike Unger, who said that in his more than 40 years of law enforcement work, he had never handled such a case in his jurisdiction of about 5,800 residents. The resurgence of the bald eagle, which was at risk of extinction 60 years ago when only about 417 nesting pairs were known to exist, is considered one of the greatest U.S. conservation stories.

Sheriff Unger said in an interview that he received a call at about 4 p.m. from a resident who reported that a car was driving through their private field near the Wood Duck State Wildlife Management Area, a public land where residents occasionally hunt.

Deputies then drove to the property, which is encircled by trees and hidden deep along a dirt path in Stanton County, about 100 miles northwest of Omaha.

The deputies found Mr. Hernandez-Tziquin and Mr. Zetino-Hernandez, who told them that they spoke only Spanish, Sheriff Unger said, prompting the deputies to use a translation app to communicate with the men.

They told the deputies that they had shot a vulture, Sheriff Unger said.

“Well, can we see that vulture?” one of the deputies asked the men, according to the sheriff.

The men said yes and opened the trunk of their car, revealing an air rifle, a BB pistol and a North American bald eagle, splayed and clearly dead.

Mr. Hernandez-Tziquin and Mr. Zetino-Hernandez told the deputies that “they intended to take it home and cook it and eat it,” Sheriff Unger said, adding that it was unclear if the men knew that killing the eagle was a violation of federal law. He also said that it was possible that the translation app they had used incorrectly stated “vulture” in their communication with deputies.

“I can’t tell you what their demeanor was at that time,” he said. “Did they or did they not know it was a North American bald eagle? I have no way of knowing. They are Honduran citizens.”

Deputies contacted the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, which took custody of the eagle and the rifle that the men had used to kill it. The men were not jailed on Wednesday because their charge was a misdemeanor.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment on Wednesday night, and a spokesman for the commission declined to discuss the case in an interview on Tuesday.

Joel Jorgensen, the spokesman, said that eagles across the country, including the 400 to 600 bald eagles in Nebraska, “are really doing quite well.”

The comeback of the bald eagles is stunning, considering they were nearly wiped out by the widespread use of the synthetic insecticide DDT. A ban on DDT in 1972, along with conservation efforts, helped the population to rebound. The bald eagle was removed from Endangered Species Act protection in 2007, and its estimated population grew to 316,700 by 2019.

But recently, the species have faced a new threat: lead poisoning.

Researchers found last year that of the 1,200 eagles they tested, nearly half had been exposed repeatedly to lead, which can lead to death and slow population growth. Scientists believe that the primary source of the lead is ammunition used by hunters, who shoot animals that the eagles then scavenge.

While there have previously been rare reports of bald eagles being hunted in the United States, the killing on Wednesday still came as a surprise to deputies at the sheriff’s office.

Sheriff Unger said there are perhaps 10 or 15 bald eagles that have been gliding through the skies of Nebraska’s Stanton County this year, delighting locals who look up to search for them in the winter.

“A lot of people enjoy seeing them,” he said. “So I know a lot of people locally who are very upset about it.”


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