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Utah News

Biologists Still Searching For Answers In Bald Eagle Deaths

Bald Eagle
Photo by Lynn Chamberlain

Wildlife biologists say there are still unanswered questions about the recent die-off of dozens of bald eagles in Utah. A total of 72 bird carcasses have been turned into the state’s Division of Wildlife Resources where scientists are performing necropsies on the birds’ livers and brain tissue. And despite some controversy, when the tests are complete, the eagle remains are incinerated. Leslie McFarlane is the wildlife disease program coordinator with the DWR.

“There’s all kinds of opinion about what we should or shouldn’t do. In this case we choose to take human safety as our primary concern,” she said.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed. They told the DWR to dispose of all carcass material.

“Before we chose to incinerate them or anything like that, we had a fairly large discussion with the USFWS over what the appropriate use of the carcasses and material were and this is what we chose to do with them,” McFarlane said.

The eagles died from West Nile virus after consuming dead eared grebes infected with the same virus. McFarlane says some 20,000 eared grebes died – a significant event she says has been largely overshadowed by the eagle deaths.

“Everyone has kind of focused on the eagles and ignored that this other part of the event happened.”

McFarlane says it’s impossible to know exactly how many eagles died from West Nile this winter, but she says it’s likely the deaths tapered off at the end of January.