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Two baby hawks in Tooele County were shot dead in their nests, raptor observers say.

On July 8, two volunteers for the Raptor Inventory Nest Survey (RINS) — which monitors the population of such birds — found two 40-day-old ferruginous hawk chicks dead at their nest site, near Vernon.

It's a federal offense to kill a raptor, since they are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The volunteers, Candice and Ryan Fitches, believed the birds had died the night before or that morning. That particular nest had a steady history of successfully producing hawks, and both chicks were only days from fledging, "leaving Candice and Ryan devastated at the unnecessary loss," a RINS report reads.

Not wanting to disturb the evidence, the husband and wife took photos of the scene, including tire marks from "suspicious ATV tracks," according to RINS. The Fitches turned over the evidence to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, which is investigating.

"They could see that [the ATV] had gone to the site, and they could see that it had turned around," said RINS Director Robyn MacDuff, adding that it appeared to be a smaller ATV.

"Young raptors are extremely vulnerable to discovery by people and other predators because they cannot protect themselves by flying away," according to RINS. "People who take aim at these birds have no idea what they are doing in terms of the precious resource they are about to destroy, not to mention the heroic efforts the parents undertake in getting their offspring out of the nest."

The ferruginous hawks populations are in decline throughout the western United States. The Utah DWR lists them as a "species of concern," meaning there's evidence of a threat to their population viability.

"This has become a source of increasing concern among conservationists and agencies charged with their welfare," according to a 2011 Utah DWR news release.

Anyone with information about the chicks' deaths can call the Utah DWR hotline at 800-662-3337.

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