Bald eagle deaths in Utah alarm and mystify scientists

December 30, 2013UTAH - Bald eagles are dying in Utah – 20 in the past few weeks alone – and nobody can figure out why. Hundreds of the majestic birds – many with wing spans of 7 feet or more – migrate here each winter, gathering along the Great Salt Lake and feasting on carp and other fish that swim in the nearby freshwater bays. Earlier this month, however, hunters and farmers across five counties in northern and central Utah began finding the normally skittish raptors lying listless on the ground. Many suffered from seizures, head tremors and paralysis in the legs, feet and wings. Many of the eagles were brought to the mammoth Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, where Buz Marthaler – a longtime animal caretaker – and other handlers tried to save the birds. Within 48 hours most were dead. “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,” said Marthaler, 56, co-founder of the facility in Ogden. “As a human being, you just have problems with that. And when you lose one, it just grabs your heart.” State wildlife specialists are also baffled. For weeks, officials have sent birds for necropsies at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., hoping the results would offer clues.  
They began to rule out obvious possibilities: The birds were not shot by hunters, and officials don’t believe the birds were poisoned. “There doesn’t seem to be anything suspicious in that regard,” said Mitch Lane, a conservation officer with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, who has responded to numerous reports of downed or sick eagles. At first, the agency’s disease scientists guessed that the illness could be encephalitis, which is caused by the West Nile virus, but later ruled out that possibility. And although many sick eagles tested positive for lead, researchers did not think that it was killing the birds. Officials suggest the eagle die-off is possibly connected to the deaths of thousands of eared grebes that began in Utah in November. Eagles are known to prey on the small shore birds. Because the grebes are thought to have died from avian cholera, many scientists theorize that the eagles became sick from feeding on infected grebes. Officials still don’t know why the shore birds became sick. “We’re getting closer to an answer,” Lane said, adding that officials would meet this week to continue investigating the mystery. Meanwhile, a new ailing bald eagle surfaces almost daily. Scott Isaacson, 59, an attorney who lives in the town of Farmington, said he was feeding his chickens one night this month when he spotted an eagle on the ground under a cottonwood tree where he was used to seeing seven or eight birds perched in the branches. “I’ve never seen one on the ground,” he said. He called wildlife officials, who told him to approach bird; if it was healthy, it would fly off. The bird skittered into a nearby pond.  
“It was really sad to see this graceful creature, with its beautiful white head, its wings spread out in the water,” he said. Wildlife officials later nabbed the bird, which was hissing and clawing as it was scooped up in a net. Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007. Utah officials say 700 to 1,200 winter here each year. Some days have been especially hard on the staff. “Every bird would come in more paralyzed than the one before it,” Marthaler said. “They couldn’t move their legs. Their wings were weak. Their heads would jerk with tremors. It was difficult to watch.” The retired Air Force member said it’s often difficult to determine the ages of adult eagles. “With their plumage, they can be 5 or 20; it’s hard to tell,” he said. Officials at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center have their own theories about the sickness. Some point to radiation from Japan after the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. “We aren’t ruling out anything,” Marthaler said. A call from Idaho shed new light: A wildlife official said bald eagles there were also getting sick, suggesting that the birds were arriving in Utah already in bad heath. -Physics
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17 Responses to Bald eagle deaths in Utah alarm and mystify scientists

  1. One only has to look up in our skies to realise we pollute everything… So sad as another branch of species decides to exit the planet..

  2. Bobi Becker says:

    This is so sad that all the creatures of this earth are dying at an alarming rate…. And, in my opinion, it has to do with human waste, pesticides, lead poisoning and the contamination of the oceans on the earth, as well as a myriad of other maladies. We humans have taken a huge toll on this entire earth due to our blatant ignorance and inability to co-exist with every living thing. Even our own extinction is very close at hand….When will we learn…..

    • carolkeiter says:

      You could not have expressed this more eloquently. thank you. it is very sad.

    • fender says:

      We will learn when it’s too late, sadly.. but pray for the best, atleast praying have had a positive effect on my life so far. peace!

    • Someone Concerned says:

      Truer words have never been spoken. It’s tragic that we arrogant humans will never realize just how much we’re still affected by nature. We’re forever tied to nature.

      We won’t fully understand until it’s far too late. Some people are already trying to reverse the damage, but I fear it’s too little, too late.

  3. sewhite333 says:

    Land of the silver birch, home of the eagle, where still the mighty moose wander at will. Blue lake and rocky shore, I will return once more…. When I was a child we used to sing that Canadian song by the campfire at 4-H camp up in northern Minnesota. Now the moose and eagles are dying and we are dying too. God help us.

  4. Michael says:

    Fukushima radiation. Real simple and to the point. Just google the Fukushima radiation map. Utah is right in the way, and yes, the radiation is here, and as been here for a year but is getting stronger. And the cherry on top is going to be the 300% increase in human cancers, especially of the Thyroid.

  5. STLloyd says:

    Perhaps it is a sign this nation itself is in the death throes!

  6. Tony Sicola says:

    Would there be a connection to the radiation from Japan? The air born radiation has been here awhile; maybe radiation poisoning is now showing up in the eagles. Would anyone tell the truth???

  7. ing says:

    Perhaps the warmer the waters get the more dangerous the microbes in the water become for some animals same as it can for humans and natural planet processes can make it seem like its man as being the cause of all the pollution and damage when in reality we don’t control much especially when it comes to the bigger picture….gods plan…….

  8. nanoduck says:

    My hunch is that it could be avian influenza. It is mutating and spreading, to birds and mammals and humans, Looks at news…there are some strong influenza strains that are breaking out now.

  9. fender says:

    Another side effect of the Fukushima “cancer” that is spreading worldwide??

  10. Someone Concerned says:

    It might be related to bird flu. All bacteria and viruses come from passing comets, meteors, etc flying through space. They live in the tails and fall into Earth’s atmosphere affecting the birds and eventually us.

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