GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – Officials with the Colorado Department of Parks & Wildlife are trying to find out who shot and killed a bald eagle earlier this month.

Weld County resident, Ray Nelson, found the bird’s carcass on his property on May 9. He lives south of Greeley and approximately a mile east of Milton Reservoir.

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(credit: CPW)

“I was walking back to the house and I just saw it sitting here on the ground and it seemed to be kind of turning its head looking behind it for a little bit,” said Nelson.

Not realizing it had been shot, Nelson decided to keep an eye on the eagle from a distance and give it some space; unfortunately, it didn’t make it through the evening.

“When I’d found out what had actually happened it turned into disgust, anger and just extremely perplexing as to how somebody could do that to a bald eagle,” he said.

Authorities completed a necropsy on the eagle and determined that it was hit with a gunshot in the lower abdomen. They speculate that the injury didn’t cause it to die right away but rather the animal died within 24 to 48 hours.

Nelson says there is a waterfowl hunting area on the reservoir, but he doesn’t believe the incident had anything to do with hunting.

“They hunt geese. If a hunter doesn’t know the difference between a goose and a bald eagle, he should not have a gun in his hands,” he said.

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CPW said the eagle was shot with a rifle, not a handgun, and the gunshot broke the eagle’s right tibia, injured its liver and caused internal bleeding.

Officials said they are keeping the eagle carcass and the bullet as evidence.

Nelson believes someone saw or at least knows who pulled the trigger.

“I’m not one for incarceration, but something needs to be done. We need to send a message that you don’t get to do this,” he said. “I mean that’s our icon for crying out loud and how somebody could point a gun and pull the trigger is beyond me. It’s a sick person. A sick person.”

Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007. They remain protected federally under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Additional Resources

Colorado Parks & Wildlife officials released the following details about this case:

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Members of the public who may have information related to the below incident should contact CPW’s Fort Collins Service Center at (970) 472-4300 or the Operation Game Thief (OGT) hotline at 877-265-6648.