"When the female was killed, the male must have tried doing what he could to feed the nestling and protect the nest, but he can't protect the nest when he's trying to find food. We think another pair of eagles came and observed that there was only one attending adult at the nest and started to realize they could take it over. That's what we think happened - they killed the lone male and the chick starved. They'll probably nest in that spot next year," Capparella said.
"Someone set this into motion. One shot killed three birds."
Sadly, authorities are no closer to finding the person responsible for the deaths. Killing bald eagles is a federal crime, carrying a fine of up to $250,000 or two years in prison. Even if the criminal is brought to justice, however, the loss of these birds is one that cannot be recouped.
"This was the first breeding pair to come back to our area in living memory," says Capparella. "They had successfully nested for the last five years, and more or less reestablished the local population on their own. It's sad that they got cut off early."
Bald eagles were once brought to near extinction in North America, driven in part by people hunting them. The species has since recovered dramatically thanks to conservation efforts, though stringent protections still remain in place to this day.