Blood, a broken feather and shell casings are the only clues to the theft of three eagles from their cages at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
Between 11 p.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday, someone cut a hole in the zoo's chain-link fence, avoided security, broke the cage locks and fled with a bald eagle and two golden eagles, said Rich Block, zoo director.
Blood found in the cages was determined to be bird blood, he said.
"Our suspicions are that the birds may have been shot before they were taken," Block said.
"The staff is just devastated," he added. "When you work with the animals over the years, you realize they have a personality."
There were "no clues as to suspects or motives," city police Sgt. Mike Mitchell said Sunday.
"The feathers are very, very valuable because they're highly restricted," he said. "The only people who can posses them are Native Americans who have permits from the federal government. I suppose they would have some value just because they're such a rare commodity."
"George," an 18-year-old bald eagle, had been shot and was missing a wing when he arrived at the zoo in 1984. The pair of golden eagles were old, and the female was unable to see or fly, Block said.
The U.S. Eagle Protection Act calls for up to $5,000 in fines and a one-year prison term for anybody convicted of illegally bartering, obtaining or selling the birds.