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Bald Eagle deaths now at 16

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - The bald eagle is the most sacred bird in the nation, and in the last month a mysterious illness has killed 16 of them right here in Utah.
 (Buz Marthaler, 2013)
(Buz Marthaler, 2013)
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - The bald eagle is the most sacred bird in the nation, and in the last month a mysterious illness has killed 16 of them right here in Utah. Meanwhile, four more are in rehabilitation, but the eagle isn't the only species dying.

Luke Huddleston duck hunts along the Great Salt Lake regularly, but most recently he has noticed a large number of dead birds along the shore and contacted the Division of Wildlife Resources.

“There are thousands of birds lined up and down the shore, probably every two or three feet. And all the seagulls and hawks and every other kind of bird is feeding on them,” said Huddleston.

DWR says these birds are called eared grebes, a water bird that picks up a bacterial disease from the environment. Since November DWR has experienced a larger than normal die off of eared grebes at the Great Salt Lake where they congregate and pick up a bacteria that grows in the water called pasteurella multocida. “We've collected these carcasses and were analyzing those as well,” said Leslie McFarlane, with DWR.

McFarlane tells ABC 4 Utah right now they have ruled out lead poisoning as a cause of death for the eagles, but another possibility high on their list is West Nile virus. However, a number of factors are complicating their findings. "Some of the carcasses are coming in frozen and so we need to thaw those out before we can actually cut them open and start taking a look at their internal organs to determine if they were sick. Other things are we have to run things like bacterial tests viral tests and all of that takes a matter of time,” said McFarlane.

DWR says they hope to release some of their lab results next week on what could be killing the bald eagles. However, in the meantime they are advising that if anyone comes across an ill or dead bald eagle to leave it alone and contact DWR directly because it is possible for humans to be infected with an illness as well.

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