Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bald eagle deaths in Utah alarm and mystify scientists

SALT LAKE CITY — 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.

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 its pain but don't know what's happening to it," said Marthaler, 56, co-founder of the facility in Ogden.

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.

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.

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah examines a bald eagle brought in with body tremors and paralysis. Most are dead within 48 hours. Their deaths are raising alarms among state wildlife officials.

Associated Press

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah examines a bald eagle brought in with body tremors and paralysis. Most are dead within 48 hours. Their deaths are raising alarms among state wildlife officials.

Bald eagle deaths in Utah alarm and mystify scientists 12/29/13 [Last modified: Sunday, December 29, 2013 11:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Tribune News Service.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What to watch this week: Fall TV kicks off with 'Will & Grace,' 'Young Sheldon,' return of 'This Is Us'

    Blogs

    September temperatures are still creeping into the 90s, but fall officially started a few days ago. And with that designation comes the avalanche of new and returning TV shows. The Big Bang Theory fans get a double dose of Sheldon Cooper's nerdisms with the return of the titular series for an eleventh season and …

    Sean Hayes, Debra Messing and Megan Mullally in Will & Grace.
  2. Bucs couldn't connect on or stop deep passes in loss to Vikings

    Bucs

    If two things were established as storylines entering Sunday's Bucs-Vikings game, it was that Tampa Bay was still struggling to establish the deep passes that were missing from its offense last year, and that …

    Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) gets into the end zone for a long touchdown reception as Bucs free safety Chris Conte (23) cannot stop him during the second half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  3. Who is Alejandro Villanueva? The Steelers player and Army veteran who stood alone now has the NFL's top-selling jersey

    Bucs

    CHICAGO — When the national anthem started at Soldier Field on Sunday, the visiting sideline was mostly empty. The most prominent evidence of the Pittsburgh Steelers was offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, standing all by himself near the tunnel, holding his right hand over his heart.

    Alejandro Villanueva stands alone during the national anthem at Soldier Field in Chicago. [Associated Press]
  4. 'Battle of the Sexes' is a fine time capsule comedy, and not really about the tennis

    Movies

    In 1973, tennis champion Billie Jean King joined a two-ring circus with hustler Bobby Riggs, billed as a Battle of the Sexes amid the women's liberation movement. Fifty million Americans watched the pop spectacle on TV.

    Emma Stone and Steve Carell in the film "Battle of the Sexes." [Fox Searchlight Pictures.]
  5. Hillsborough will not add extra days for storm

    Blogs

    Public school students in Hillsborough County do not have to come to school for additional days to make up for time missed in Hurricane Irma, the district announced Monday.