A spate of bald eagle deaths has baffled wildlife officials in Utah after more than 20 of the great birds have been found suffering a mysterious illness.
Two more bald eagles were found this week suffering the illness, bringing the total number since the start of December to 21. Of those affected, 16 have already died.
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah has been receiving sick and dying bald eagles faster than ever before, officials said.
“They are being brought in with leg weakness, paralysis, tremors, weakness in the wings, seizures,” said DaLyn Erickson-Marthaler of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah.
Erickson-Marthaler said the birds are exhibiting symptoms similar to West Nile disease, but officials have ruled out the mosquito-borne disease.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything suspicious in that regard,” said Mitch Lane, a conservation officer with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
Researchers know that the bald eagles are not being shot by hunters and aren’t being poisoned. Officials think the bald eagle deaths may be connected to the deaths of thousands of eared grebes in Utah in November, which they think is caused by avian cholera.
“We’re getting closer to an answer,” Lane said.
Erickson-Marthaler said the answer to the bald eagle deaths may be something much deeper than they have ever seen.
“We don’t know how all the pieces of the puzzle come together yet so this could be the end of it or this could be the tip of the iceberg,” Erickson-Marthaler said. “We don’t know.”
The bald eagle deaths in Utah are the latest setback for the iconic birds. Earlier this month, the federal government leveled a $1 million fine against Duke Energy Corp., which pleaded guilty to killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds at two wind farms.