Bald Eagles Are Mysteriously Dying in Utah, But No One Knows Why

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A growing number of deaths in Utah have left state wildlife officials without any solid explanations as they continue to dig into the mystery in search of answers.

This month, 21 bald eagles have been found with a mysterious illness, of which 16 have died. Normally the state sees bald eagle numbers range between 700 and 1200 during their winter migration from the North and wildlife officials expect to see just a few cases of deaths or those needing help as a result of injuries or illness. The sudden number of deaths and unexplained symptoms has everyone worried.

Bald Eagles Are Mysteriously Dying in Utah, But No One Knows Why

Residents began finding the downed eagles earlier this month, and at least nine have been taken to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah for treatment, which is currently taking care of four survivors.

Rescuers there recount the difficulty of watching a fierce national symbol of strength inexplicably suffering from debilitating symptoms that include body tremors (video), seizures, paralysis, and weakness in their wings, legs and feet.

“It’s just hard to have your national bird in your arms, going through seizures in a way it can’t control ― when you can see it’s pain but don’t know what’s happening to it,” Buz Marthaler, co-founder of the rehabilitation center, told the LA Times.

Experts are trying to rule out suspected causes, which range from diseases, neurotoxins, lead poisoning and radiation from the Fukushima meltdown.

Leslie McFarlane, Utah wildlife disease coordinator, told Reuters that poisoning from has at least been ruled out in preliminary tests of carcasses by National Wildlife Health Center’s lab in and that diseases are suspected because of the symptoms the eagles are showing. Other types of poisoning aren’t high on the list of culprits because of the cases of eagles being found spread across several counties.

The symptoms resemble West Nile virus, but according to McFarlane that would be unlikely because there are few mosquitoes at this time of year. Officials also looking into whether the deaths could have anything to do with a die-off of grebes at Great Salt Lake in November, which was caused by avian cholera – a bacteria the eagles could have come into contact with by eating the infected birds.

This week a wildlife official from reached out and said eagles there were also getting sick, which could mean the raptors were already ill before they got to Utah, according to the LA Times.

Still, the worst fear seems to be identifying the cause and finding out that human intervention won’t be able to stop it from killing more of these iconic birds.

“There’s all kinds of diseases out there in nature that take the lives of wildlife. You know, a lot of those diseases, there’s not a whole lot that people can do about them. That’s just what happens out in nature,” Mark Hadley, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, told the Public News Service.

While they wait for the results of mores tests, wildlife experts are advising people who find eagles who are downed or appear to be in distress to leave them be and call the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for help.

This article was written by Alicia Graef for Care2.com

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David Gephart
David Gephart

Is that why it is a "mystery"??

Mikal Deese

Yes, West Nile was confirmed as the cause, however that still leaves huge questions. Wild bird rehabilitators have been seeing WNV for some years now. But the blood borne disease has been thought to be transmitted only by mosquitos. Certainly all our cases show up during the season when mosquitos are present. This is obviously not the case in Utah in the winter. To suggest that the virus can be transmitted by ingestion of infected birds, of infected anything, is a radical departure from what we have “known”. Why would this happen now for the first time and in large… Read more »

Mavourneen Strozewski
Mavourneen Strozewski

I found the Salt Lake Tribune Article: I was wrong on the amount of dead Eagles, it's up to 40 as of the 6th; here's the article link: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57358750-78/eagles-wildlife-utah-nile.html.csp

Garry Rogers

I thought we had confirmation that it was West Nile. See Mavourneen's comment below.

Mavourneen Strozewski
Mavourneen Strozewski

Oops west Nile virus

Mavourneen Strozewski
Mavourneen Strozewski

It was already figured out… West Nike virus and it claimed 24 eagles that they know of

Mark McCandlish

In California, West Nile Virus has devastated the Blue Jay, Crow, Raven and Black bird populations. The symptoms described are similar: Disorientation, lack of balance, no strength or coordination in the wings and feet. Many have been found on the ground; unable to fly. I suggest injecting coconut milk directly into their crops. Coconut has a substance in it called lauric acid. Once injested, the liver converts it to a medium chain fatty acid that has properties that inhibit the replication of viruses and other bacterial pathogens, like MRSA. It has shown such promising results in research that it may… Read more »

Sarah Mayhew

Let's hope it isn't Wildlife Services. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSV8pRLkdKI

Nina Stavlund

I've read and heard about this, and in the previous articles I have read, most people are thinking about the West Nile, which is absolutely possible when eating birds already infected. It's really sad news though, and i hope they find a cause soon!