Avian Flu Is Killing Bald Eagles, Too

Experts worry about the effects during nesting season
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 23, 2022 3:30 PM CDT
Flu Toll Rises for Bald Eagles
A bald eagle sits on a nest overlooking Lake Oconee near Greensboro, Ga., in 2007. A flu infecting birds nationwide is being blamed for the deaths of three bald eagles in Georgia.   (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

The toll is much higher among chickens and turkeys, but the avian flu outbreak is killing bald eagles, as well. Since February, 41 dead bald eagles were found to have been infected with the virus, per the USDA. That doesn't include two others infected in New York late last month, or infections this month in Ohio, South Dakota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Vermont, Maine, and North Dakota, the New York Times reports. Because it's nesting season, there's concern that the flu could endanger the potential offspring of bald eagles, as well.

While millions of chickens at commercial operations have become ill or died, raptors and birds of prey, including bald eagles, also have been affected. Bald eagles could be catching the virus because they hunt living prey and scavenge carcasses; waterfowl especially have been hit. "If the waterfowl are dying, then eagles can pick it up from eating those dead waterfowl," said Krysten Schuler of the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab. Bald eagles were close to extinction in the 1960s before conservation efforts paid off and they were deemed to no longer need Endangered Species Act protection in 2007. But they face new threats.

"The resilience of these animals was very close to the edge," Schuler said. "If a few more breeding adults died, that could actually have a pretty big impact on the future growth of these populations." Some ill birds don't show symptoms, though bald eagles thought to be infected at a rehabilitation center in Ohio have been unable to fly or had seizures. Local governments in some places are asking people to take down their bird feeders to combat the flu's spread, per WITI. Officials elsewhere recommend just keeping the feeders clean and not letting large numbers of birds at risk gather. (More avian flu stories.)

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