Utah State officials, and nature lovers alike, have been left wondering what has been killing off our beloved bald eagles. Now scientists at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) believe they have an answer.
Since the beginning of December 2013, some 27 bald eagles have been found dead, and scientists fear this number will continue to rise. Additionally, five other sick bald eagles are being treated at a DWR rehabilitation facility.
In a public statement, the DWR believes they have found an answer as to why our adored national bird is dying… West Nile Virus (WNV)!
Utah DWR lab tests confirm that Utah bald eagles are dying from West Nile Virus, contracted by eating other small birds known as grebes. Birds becoming infected with West Nile is actually very common, but we all hate to see it hit so close to home.
The good news is that these aquatic birds (grebes) that the bald eagles are feeding on, which are carrying WNV, should be done with there winter migration. These bald eagle deaths should just about be over.
If you find a dead bald eagle, or any other dead bird for that matter, it’s best to leave it alone; even if you cannot contract WNV from handling dead birds.
Infected mosquitoes transmit the West Nile Virus to birds; and Mosquitoes become infected by biting infected birds. It’s a vicious cycle. Some predatory birds, like the bald eagle in this case, that are predators can become infected with WNV after eating sick or dead birds that were already infected.
West Nile Virus has been detected in over 300 different species of birds, with crows and jays being the most susceptible.
It’s unlikely that you’ll ever catch West Nile from a bird, but it is very possible that you can catch it from infected mosquitoes. When outdoors protect yourself by wearing clothing that covers your entire body; and spray yourself down with a mosquito repellant containing DEET. Mosquito activity is at its peek during the dusk hours, so limit your outdoor exposure during these times.