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Cause of bald eagle deaths around Utah still somewhat of a mystery


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SALT LAKE CITY — Something is killing bald eagles in Utah, and wildlife experts are at a loss as to why. As many as 12 have died since the beginning of December; the latest death occurred Saturday morning.

"It's frustrating and heart breaking," said Leslie McFarlane, Division of Wildlife Resources wildlife disease coordinator. "It's really hard because you want to be able to do something right now and we just can't."

Since Dec. 1, at least 12 majestic bald eagles have died. The latest, a one-year-old female, died Friday morning. She was discovered last Wednesday near Centerville by a jogger, and was brought to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Ogden.

"It's hard to watch. It's really frustrating to not be able to know what we're treating, what we're seeing, if we can even treat it at all." said DaLyn Erickson-Marthaler, who works at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah.

About all anyone knows so far is that all of the eagles were experiencing the same symptoms.

"They were showing signs of body tremors, they would have seizures, they appeared to be paralyzed and they had weakness in their feet and in their legs," Erickson-Marthaler said.

Now is the time of year when eagles are seen often in Northern Utah. They migrate here from other states and linger near the marshes of the Great Salt Lake, where there's plenty of food. The Division of Wildlife Resources conducts annual counts, and the numbers range between 700-1200.

Adding to the concern is the fact that the dead birds weren't discovered in just one spot; they were spread throughout several different counties in Northern Utah.

"Usually if you have something, say like a poisoning or something like that, usually you find them in small geographical areas or something along those lines," McFarlane said.

The wildlife folks are considering all possibilities but admit this is a strange situation.

"No we've never had this many birds come in of one species, and as quickly in as short a span of time, and having them all die," Erickson-Marthaler said.

The dead eagles have been sent off to labs for tests, but results may not be back until the end of the year.

"Even then, even when we do find out what it is, it may be something that we can do nothing about," McFarlane said.

Wildlife officials said none of the eagles were shot, and there are no signs of anything malicious going on. If you see a dead or injured eagle, don't try to catch it. Call the Division of Wildlife Resources.

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Keith McCord

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