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June 07. 2014 9:49PM

Loon shooting deaths called 'unusual'

A loon is seen on the water with her chick. A second $5,000 reward was offered Friday for information about the shootings of two loons last month. LOON PRESERVATION COMMITTEE 

GILFORD - Authorities say the case of two loon deaths from gunshot wounds last month is unusual because the shootings occurred several months before bird hunting season begins and loons are not usually mistaken for game birds.

"We've had eagle shootings before, but in 30 years in the field, I've never dealt with a loon shooting, certainly not two," said Special Agent Robert Rothe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Friday.

A second loon found shot last month died two weeks ago, Rothe said, leading state and federal authorities to issue a second $5,000 reward Friday for information concerning the shooting of the endangered birds.

The reward is now a combined $10,000. On Wedneday, the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust offered a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the shooter's arrest.

The first wounded loon was found early on May 20 near the Cocheco River in Dover. The bird was taken to an emergency veterinary hospital, where X-rays revealed the bird had been shot, Fish and Game officials said.

The loon was released back into the wild but was found dead this week, officials said.

"It had a gunshot, which left a foreign fragment in its body," Rothe said. "The thought was that surgery was dangerous and it might be able to survive, but it didn't make it."

Later on May 20, another dead loon was found on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee in Gilford near Varney Point. It was later confirmed that the loon had been shot and killed, authorities said.

The investigation has not yet determined if the birds were shot by the same person. An earlier report that the slugs appeared of different caliber was untrue, he said, as authorities are not sure what type of bullets were used.

Fish and Game Lt. Heidi Murphy said Friday that both birds have been sent for necropsies - animal versions of autopsies - to get the caliber of the bullets and more information about their deaths.

Loons are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has maximum penalties of $15,000 for killing a loon, with possible imprisonment of up to a year. In New Hampshire, loons are listed as a threatened species and protected under state laws.

The Loon Preservation Committee, headquartered in Moultonborough, said the state has 284 pairs of loons.

Rothe would not say if the investigation has produced any leads or suspects.

"I can't speak specifically about this case as it is ongoing, but we do find in these investigations that people do purposely shoot endangered birds," he said. "But this is not a typical case, I don't remember anyone shooting loons before."Anyone with information about the shootings is asked to call Rothe at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Concord at 223-2541, or the Fish and Game Department's Operation Game Thief hotline at (800) 244-4262, or go to wildnh.com/OGT.


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