SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is asking for the public's help to solve the recent shootings of several hawks in Cache County.
Conservation Officer Chris Schulze said as many as seven of the birds have been fatally shot near Smithfield in the past week.
Each of the protected raptors appears to have been shot with small-caliber weapons.
Wildlife investigators are working with local police to try to identify who is responsible. They say the shootings occurred along a rural roadway on the outskirts of Smithfield, a town of about 9,500 just south of the Idaho line.
"We're encouraging people to be observant and aware, and if they witness something suspicious to contact us," Schulze said.
He said Friday that the birds were of varying types and included red-tailed, Swainson's and Ferruginous hawks. They are considered a migratory bird and are protected under both state and federal law.
The crime is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for each offense.
The shootings have outraged Steven Slater, conservation science director for Salt Lake City-based HawkWatch International.
"It is unfortunate that this remains a big issue for us," he said. "It seems to happen more out in these rural areas where there's just not very many people to see."
Late autumn and winter are dangerous times for hawks because they tend to concentrate in areas, like farmland fields, where rodent populations provide abundant hunting.
They perch on utility poles or bare tree limbs, making them easy targets.
"People shoot at them out of ignorance and for their own entertainment when (the birds) are most vulnerable," Slater said.
"They don't realize raptors provide a real service by removing voles (and other rodents) that otherwise can cause extensive damage to fields."