More bald eagles fall victim to mysterious illness

Posted at 9:30 PM, Dec 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-27 23:52:31-05

OGDEN, Utah - The number of bald eagles dying across Utah is rising, a total of 21 have been found since the first of December, but wildlife officials are still waiting for tests to try and find out what’s causing it.

Wildlife officers say it’s a difficult thing to witness; the nation’s bird in distress.

“Things are changing every day,” says DWR wildlife disease specialist Leslie McFarlane. “And I fully expect that we’ll continue to see numbers increase.”

The symptoms appear to mimic West Nile Virus, and there a chance it’s related to sick greaves found near the Great Salt Lake earlier this year. But in the end, giving the disease a name may not help prevent it.

“There may be absolutely nothing that we can do. That’ll be the hard part. Anytime you try and manage something in wild populations, it’s extremely difficult.”

Four eagles are fighting for life at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah. Director DaLyn Erickson says treatment has proven successful, but it’s difficult to tell without a diagnosis.

“We’ve moved to more injectables,” says Erickson. “And it seems to be having a better effect. But we don’t know if the success we’re having now is attributed to the birds are just more resistant to whatever is ailing them, or if it’s because of people being vigilant and reporting it quickly.”

Those unknown questions remain as officials wait for lab results. Tests have been delayed by the Christmas holiday, and the number of tests that need to be done.

“The thing that has really complicated this is that all of the birds did not all come in all at the same day,” says McFarlane. “So we have different stages of the testing process that we need to go through.

At this point, DWR says the best thing they can tell people is if they encounter an animal that appears sick is not to touch it. Officials still don’t know if the disease can be transferred to humans, the best thing to do is call DWR and a wildlife officer will come pick it up.