Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
| Courtesy Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah Utah wildlife officials were scrambling in early December to determine what fatal illness was striking bald eagles. Sick birds were delivered to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden, such as this eagle, and others were taken to Great Basin Wildlife Rescue in Mapleton. It has now been confirmed that migrating eared grebes that died at the Great Salt Lake, commonly scavenged by eagles, had West Nile virus.
Sick grebes confirmed as culprit in Utah eagle deaths
Wildlife » Outbreak has killed dozens of raptors; it’s first time West Nile has been seen in eared grebes.
First Published Jan 17 2014 04:39 pm • Last Updated Jan 17 2014 09:37 pm

Testing from the National Wildlife Health Center has confirmed that dead grebes in Utah had West Nile virus — which spread to scavenging bald eagles, killing more than 50.

The center confirmed in December that the virus was behind sick and dead eagles that began appearing in northern Utah earlier that month. Wildlife officials came to suspect the migrating eared grebes, which gather on the Great Salt Lake in massive numbers each fall before continuing south.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

As is common, up to 20,000 grebes died this year, and officials believed eagles feasted on infected birds.

Follow-up testing on dead Utah grebes showed they were positive for the virus and negative for lead, avian influenza and other possible causes of death, the center said in a bulletin released Friday. This is the first time the virus has been seen in eared grebes, it noted.

The eagle death toll has reached 54, with four live birds in rehabilitation, according to Leslie McFarlane, wildlife disease specialist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR).

Grebes have since migrated out of the state, and reports of sick eagles have "dramatically decreased," McFarlane said in an email Friday. However, the number of eagle carcasses being found is increasing, a trend that may continue as snow melts, she noted.

Utah has a small population of resident bald eagles, but the numbers are bolstered by up to 1,200 migrating eagles during some winters. DWR is going ahead with its popular annual Bald Eagle Day on Feb. 8, and will take the opportunity to discuss the outbreak with the public.

West Nile virus, spread by mosquitoes, has rarely been seen so late in the year and rarely seen in bald eagles. Before the Utah outbreak, the wildlife health center had tested 386 bald eagles for the virus and only 11 were positive, it said in the bulletin.

Based on the Utah findings, the virus should be considered a potential diagnosis throughout the year, the center said. The virus has been reported in more than 300 species of birds since it was first identified in the United States in 1999.

Since mosquitoes are not active, health officials say humans and livestock are not at risk. Still, wildlife officials encourage people not to touch sick or dead birds. Instead, call the nearest DWR office 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.


story continues below
story continues below



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.