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The Golden Eagle could become Utah's official state bird of prey

Dustin Maloney
An adult Golden Eagle feeding its nestling, photo taken from nest cameras set up by Hawkwatch International

Golden eagles are widely distributed across Utah but in low abundances, they require large areas to hunt and are threatened by several key issues including habitat alteration. Dustin Maloney is a Research Associate for Hawkwatch International and PhD Candidate at Utah State University who has studied Golden Eagles for nearly a decade.

Golden Eagles are facing a number of different issues in Utah some are caused by people I think a good example would be the loss or the change of habitat that can have a cascading effect on to their prey base which will in turn affect the overall population of Golden Eagles”

Maloney explains that losing hiding areas also means losing prey, which can cause golden eagle numbers to dwindle. As an apex predator, eagles require tremendous amounts of prey to survive and while they can eat just about anything, their diet is largely made up of rabbits. In the summer of 2020, a new disease appeared, causing massive rabbit die-offs.

“The rabbit hemorrhagic disease has taken a toll on the rabbit population here in Utah and in turn that's really affected the breeding population of golden eagles”

Maloney researches environmental stressors that affect the health and survival of Golden Eagle nestlings. He hopes that increasing awareness about these birds, through measures like this bill, can help with their conservation, which is especially important in Utah.

“Our preliminary data are suggesting that our nestling survival rates are actually lower than across the West as well as our adults’ survival rates and both these things give us cause for concern here in the Utah population”

Maloney and his colleagues at Hawkwatch International who study Golden Eagles, hope their research can help inform management decisions.

We are well positioned to answer some pressing questions about the nestling health and how that affects survival. And so now we're looking at ways to help potential mitigation of parasites or contaminants or pathogens is multi stressors

The bill has passed in the Senate and received a favorable recommendation from the House Rules Committee.

Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!