Bald Eagle Day different than in years past after virus kills dozens of eagles in Utah

Posted at 5:54 PM, Feb 08, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-08 19:54:27-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Birders and photographers showed up to the Division of Wildlife Resources' Bald Eagle Day Saturday, but a recent outbreak of West Nile Virus that killed many eagles in Utah meant bird spotting opportunities weren't as abundant as usual.

The event is usually a rare chance to get close to the majestic birds, but because of a virus that killed of several dozen eagles this winter, the crowd didn’t get the same show this year.

“We've seen six or seven eagles. It's not the most we've had,” Bird Watcher Erik Johanson said.

Birder Susan Johanson said this year things were different.

“We didn't know if there would be eagles out this year because so many died from the virus, but one year we came out and counted over 50: They were everywhere," she said. “We probably counted a dozen last year, and this year we've counted five or six.”

From now until the end of February is the best time to see the eagles migrating through the Salt Lake Valley.

Officials with Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources said there was no reason to cancel Bald Eagle Day, but it decided to approach it differently, by not feeding the birds to draw them closer to the crowd.

“Eagles are unusual because they congregate to be around those of their species,” said Watchable Wildlife Coordinator Bob Walter. “So they are going to congregate anyway, but we decided not to control for carp.”

Bald Eagle Day is an annual event that began in 1990, according to the DWR's website.