DULUTH, Minn. (AP) - When thousands of great gray, boreal and northern hawk owls flocked to northern Minnesota last winter looking for food, they became targets.
Stemming from separate incidents, four men have been charged in federal court with killing the protected birds. Together, more than a dozen owls were shot dead.
"We know of several more owls that were shot but, as of now, we don't have enough information to prove any more than these four cases,'' said Scott Staples, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer.
"Most people enjoyed driving around and seeing all the owls last winter, so I think people were pretty upset when they saw or heard about the shootings,'' Staples said.
Experts say about 5,000 owls arrived to northeastern Minnesota last winter. Nearly 1,000 owls - mostly great grays - were killed after being hit by cars.
Those charged for shooting the owls include Ronald Mlaskoch, of Willow River; Tyson Warner, of Tamarack and Roy and Jacob Line, both of Cromwell. All faced fines ranging from $850 to $6,800.
When questioned by DNR officials, Roy Line said he would consider shooting owls if they threatened geese on his property. Line later confessed he had shot an owl, the DNR said in a news release.
In the most severe case, officers say they found at least 10 owl carcasses on Warner's property. He pleaded guilty to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 24 in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. His hunting, fishing and trapping privileges could be suspended for two years.
DNR officials said outraged members of the public led them to investigate reports of people shooting the owls.
Information from: Duluth News Tribune, http://www.duluthsuperior.com