OGDEN, Utah – Bald eagles are dying in Utah from eating dead birds infected with West Nile Virus, according to Leslie McFarlane, wildlife disease coordinator at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
She says testing reveals that upwards of 30 bald eagles have likely died from West Nile in the past few weeks.
And McFarlane says it appears that the eagles, which eat other dead birds, got the virus after dining on the carcasses of infected eared grebes along Great Salt Lake.
She says several eagles, found near death and now being treated, seem to be recovering.
“So far the five birds that they’re currently treating have responded well to the treatments that they’ve been given,” she says.
McFarlane adds the number of bald eagle deaths may be much higher because it’s likely many carcasses have not yet been found.
An estimated 1,200 eagles spend the winter months in Utah.
McFarlane says the eagle deaths should not have much of an impact on the overall population of the bird.
And she says there is no risk to humans being infected with West Nile Virus from the eared grebes.
McFarlane explains humans get the virus from a mosquito or blood transfusion, but anyone who finds a sick or dead eagle should avoid contact with the bird and contact wildlife officials immediately.
“Because you never know why something could have died,” she points out. “So it’s just always best if you find anything sick or any of these dead eagles that you should really call and let us know.”
McFarlane says the worst of the West Nile infections may be over because the virus has pretty much run its course.
She says West Nile has killed about 20,000 grebes or about 1 percent of the estimated 2 million birds that winter on Great Salt Lake.
Wildlife officials say another positive factor is that the grebes migration through Salt Lake is nearly over.