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Four bald eagles being treated as death toll hits 16

Published December 27, 2013 12:12 pm

Wildlife • Farmington family alerts DWR to stricken raptor; necropsy test results due next week.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Isaacson family frequently spots bald eagles in the skies above their Farmington home, but this week's eagle sighting was different.

Scott Isaacson was feeding the chickens Monday night when something caught his attention.

"I turned on the flashlight and saw this eagle on the ground. I thought he would fly as I got closer, but he didn't," Isaacson said. "He struggled like he was caught on something."

Isaacson had heard recent stories of bald eagles dying, so he called officials. They asked him to get close enough to see whether the raptor would fly, but it ended up wading through Farmington Creek in their backyard.

Wildlife officials later had a hard time finding the bald eagle. It had moved back across the creek and was hiding.

"He put up quite a fight," Isaacson said. "He was hissing and striking out."

Officers eventually captured the bird and sent it to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden where it is one of four bald eagles showing symptoms of the disease that the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) says has killed 16 raptors since the first week of December.

The latest bird showed up on Christmas Eve from West Point displaying head tremors, lower extremity paralysis and digestive issues.

Six bald eagles turned into wildlife centers this month have either died or were euthanized.

"The problem is we can't catch eagles showing symptoms of being sick and get them to the centers before it is too late," said Leslie McFarlane, DWR wildlife disease specialist. "By the time we can catch them, they are just too far gone."

Necropsy test results from the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., are expected next week after being delayed by the holidays.

The eagles' symptoms are similar to those associated with West Nile virus, but officials will wait for lab results before stating the cause of the deaths.

"People who see sick or dying eagles shouldn't handle them," McFarlane warned. "We don't know what this is yet, and we have no idea if it can be transmitted to people."

Wildlife officials ask people who spot distressed or dead eagles or other wildlife to contact DWR offices in Ogden, Vernal, Springville, Cedar City or Price with the animal's location. The Help Stop Poaching Hotline, 1-800-662-3337, is another option on weekends and holidays and after hours.

Meanwhile, the staff at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah continues to adapt treatments for the eagles hoping to come up with a way to save them.

One of the most obvious symptoms is head tremors, likely caused by a swelling of the brain — a sign of West Nile virus.

"Because they are showing signs of encephalitis, we are treating it ... with anti-inflammatories," said DaLyn Erickson of the rehab center.

Isaacson said Farmington residents who have grown accustomed to seeing the raptors hope the mystery surrounding their deaths will be solved soon.

"Everybody here loves the eagles. We see them all the time, and we have Eagle Bay Elementary and Eagle Shore Church," Isaacson said. "When we were considering buying our house, we walked out the back door and onto the patio and there was a bald eagle in the tree. It kind of helped us decide to buy the house."

brettp@sltrib.com

Twitter: @BrettPrettyman What to do if you see ailing eagle

Wildlife officials ask those who spot distressed or dead eagles or other wildlife to contact a Division of Wildlife Resources office in Ogden, Vernal, Springville, Cedar City or Price with the animal's location. They also may contact the Help Stop Poaching Hotline (1-800-662-3337) on weekends and holidays and after hours.