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UT Bald Eagle Deaths - A Mystery To Wildlife Officials

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PHOTO: At least a dozen bald eagles have died in the past month in Utah and state wildlife officials don't know the cause. Photo courtesy of the U-S Fish and Wildlife Service.
PHOTO: At least a dozen bald eagles have died in the past month in Utah and state wildlife officials don't know the cause. Photo courtesy of the U-S Fish and Wildlife Service.
 By Troy Wilde, Public News Service - UT, Contact
December 30, 2013

OGDEN, Utah - At least a dozen bald eagles have died in the past month in Utah, and state wildlife officials don't know the cause. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources spokesman Mark Hadley said six eagles were found sick and later died of nearly identical symptoms, and another half-dozen birds were found dead in the wild. The eagles were found in an area of northern Utah spanning several hundred square miles.

There is no clear cause of death, but Hadley said that the birds are undergoing a necropsy - the equivalent of an autopsy for animals.

"There's a whole battery of tests that they run that takes a long period of time to work the birds through, to test for various things," Hadley said. "So it's going to be a little while before we'll know for sure."

Testing done on three of the dead eagles showed they did not die from lead poisoning, he added, saying that means the birds weren't poisoned by eating animals that had been shot. The iconic birds live mostly on a diet of dead animals, he noted.

The number of recent deaths is much greater than the small number of eagles that die from various causes each year, Hadley said. However, even knowing the cause of death may not provide answers that could be useful in preventing future deaths, he warned.

"There's all kinds of diseases out there in nature that take the lives of wildlife," he said. "You know, a lot of those diseases, there's not a whole lot that people can do about them. That's just what happens out in nature."

Hadley estimated that as many as 2,000 bald eagles winter in Utah between November and March, before migrating north to mate. He said testing to determine the cause of death could take several weeks to complete.

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