Two men in Nebraska have been cited after hunting and killing a bald eagle, according to the Stanton County Sheriff’s Office.
The men, who are citizens of Honduras, have been charged with unlawful possession of a bald eagle, according to a news release from the sheriff’s office. The men indicated they “planned on cooking and eating the bird,” according to the news release.
The bald eagle, chosen as a national emblem in 1782, is protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Enacted in 1940, the law forbids the “taking” of bald eagles – as well as their parts, eggs and nests – without a permit from the Department of the Interior.
Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger told CNN he received a phone call about a “suspicious vehicle” close to the Wood Duck Recreation Center on Tuesday afternoon. He sent several deputies to the site, where they encountered the two men.
The two men spoke only Spanish, according to Unger. Deputies used an interpreter app to communicate with them. Through the app, the men said they “shot a vulture.” When deputies asked to see the vulture, they “freely” opened the trunk of their car to reveal a dead North American bald eagle, according to Unger.
Unger said it was not clear if the men understood bald eagles are protected under federal law.
“Their actions would lead us to believe that they probably didn’t realize (the birds are protected) – at least not protected as much as it would be, as our national bird,” he said.
The men do not appear to have attorneys at this time, Unger said.
The Nebraska Game and Parks department took custody of the eagle and the high-powered air rifle used to kill it, according to Unger. Further charges against the two men are possible pending further investigation from federal authorities, he said.
Unger said in his 40 years of law enforcement experience, he had never dealt with the killing of a bald eagle in his county.
“Everybody around here obviously is very disappointed that this happened,” he said. “Some of the citizens are quite upset.”
The bald eagle population faced serious decline during the 20th century due to hunting, habitat loss and the effect of the powerful insecticide DDT. But thanks to conservation efforts, including the banning of DDT in 1972, the species has made a significant comeback and was removed from the Endangered Species Act in 2007.