PALM HARBOR — One day into the investigation of a gruesome osprey death in a Palm Harbor neighborhood, state wildlife officials say they're following several "strong" leads.
"We definitely have some individuals in mind that we're going to talk to," said Robert Scholl, an officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "We will get to the bottom of this. I promise that."
The adult male bird, which was found Tuesday morning on a sidewalk near 2539 Shoreline Circle in the Cobb's Landing neighborhood, was taken to Busch Gardens, where a veterinary X-ray revealed metal fragments lodged in its body, officials said. Investigators are trying to determine how the bird died, but the fragments indicate it was shot.
Scholl called it the worst wildlife killing he's ever seen.
"It was like someone murdered the bird. It was one of those crime scenes," he said. "They just shot it cold-blooded."
Both federal and state laws prohibit the killing of ospreys. Doing so can result in hefty fines and possible jail time.
Scholl said his agency is working with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and other local law enforcement. He declined to be specific, but said leads so far indicate that the alleged shooter is a "habitual offender" with a criminal past in Pinellas County.
Donations helped the Clearwater Audubon Society increase its reward to $720 for information leading to an arrest of anyone responsible for killing the bird. Scholl said wildlife officials plan to offer additional reward money.
Audubon board member Barb Walker said the osprey's death is one of a recent spate of bird killings in north Pinellas County.
Just two weeks ago, Walker said, blow darts and dart guns were used to shoot Muscovy ducks, which are unprotected, and common gallinules, a protected species, just feet away from a bald eagle's nest at Virginia Street and Oakwood Drive in Dunedin.
Then 10 baby ducks, likely mallard hybrids, went missing Monday from a pond at Eternal Rest Memories Park and Funeral Home on Belcher Road in Dunedin. No carcasses were found and the mom and dad ducks were fine, but a BB gun was found on the grounds.
"No one knows exactly what happened, but we have an idea," Walker said.
Across the country, she said, there have been reports of birds being attacked with nail guns and paint guns.
Dunedin officials last week preliminarily approved a ban of BB guns on all public property in response to complaints that a group of teens shot and killed two Musocvy ducks in Lake Paloma with a pellet gun for dinner in November. Residents said they feared for the safety of other wildlife and nearby homes. Several city commissioners added that they were worried about the implications of hunting within city limits.
In light of the recent killings, Walker is urging Dunedin to include other types of properties in the ban, like private cemeteries or conservation easements, as well as a larger array of weapons than BB guns.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.