West Nile Kills Eagles in Utah

bald_eagle utahA Utah Division of Wildlife Resources press release says that West Nile virus killed over 20 bald eagles near the Great Salt Lake in Utah last month.

The eagle deaths are unusual in several ways. First, West Nile virus tends to be most active in the summer months when infections are spread by mosquitoes. Second, while West Nile virus is typically spread by mosquitoes, Utah wildlife officials think that this time the eagles got infected after eating eared grebes that had made a migration stop on the Great Salt Lake. (About two million eared grebes visit the lake during migration.)

The smart money was on avian cholera or even avian vacuolar myelinopathy causing the deaths, but testing in two different labs, including the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisc., showed that neither of these diseases was the cause.

The press release quotes a state epidemiologist saying that there is “no risk” to human health from the outbreak because humans typically get West Nile from mosquito bites, and mosquitoes aren’t active in Utah at this time of year.

Read the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources release, here.
Find a list of media coverage of the mortality event and the West Nile diagnosis, here.

Photo: A bald eagle in Utah. Photo by Lynn Chamberlain

Two Bird Flaps

Bald_EagleAs we reported on the return of snowy owls to the US last week, another part of the story was unfolding. According to news reports, one of the snowies flew into the engine of an airplane and John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ordered airport personnel to shoot any other snowy owls on sight. Two of the owls were shot on Dec. 7.

Read the news reports here:Mother Nature Network (most detailed)
Business Insider
NY Daily News

An uproar ensued, with objections lodged by NYC Audubon and Change.org. The owls will now be trapped and moved away from the airport.
Read the update in The New York Times, here

Snowy owls aren’t the only raptors gaining attention from their possible deaths this week. Last week the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced new regulations that would extend wind farm’s golden and bald eagle take permits for another 30 years. The original permits were for five years. Among the conservation groups protesting the new regulation are the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy.

Read the Los Angeles Times story on the controversy here.
Read the US Fish and Wildlife Service press release here.
An Associated Press article in the Seattle Times.

Photo: Bald eagle, Dave Menke, USFWS

Syndrome Kills Southern Eagles

hydrillaClarks Hill Lake in Georgia was home to seven bald eagle nesting territories a few years ago. Today, only one nesting territory on Clarks Hill remains. The culprit is Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy, or AVM, a mysterious syndrome that has killed thousands of coots and dozens of bald eagles in the southeastern United States, says a Georgia Department of Natural Resources newsletter.

While the exact cause of the syndrome is unknown, it is connected to the cyanobacteria Stigonematales. Stigonematales likes to grow on hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant. It appears as though the coots eat the hydrilla, which has Stigonematales growing on it. And the bald eagles eat the coots.

Bald eagle and coot deaths tend to peak around November of each year.

Read more about this mysterious syndrome and more non-game news in Georgia Wild, the newsletter of Georgia DNR’s non-game and natural habitats program.

Photo: Hydrilla draped over a man’s hand. Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bald Eagles Up in 3 States

Bald_EagleBald eagle numbers are up in Georgia and Massachusetts, and a Wisconsin county has seen its first bald eagle nest in over 100 years.

In Wisconsin, an article in the Kenosha News reported that Seth Fisher, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife technician, flew over the nest, which is on private property in the southern part of Racine County. “It’s exciting to have this be the first nest in a long time this far south” in this region of the state, the article quotes Fisher as saying.

In Georgia, bald eagle surveys in January and March found 166 occupied nesting territories, 124 successful nests and 185 young fledged, according to a Department of Natural Resources press release. That’s an increase from last year’s 163 nesting territories and 121 successful nests, the release says, while the number of eaglets fledged dropping slightly from 199.

The Quabbin Reservoir and the Connecticut River remain the strongholds of the Massachusetts bald eagle population, the Worcester News Telegram reports. There is still plenty of unoccupied bald eagle habitat on the state’s ocean coastline, the article quotes Joan Walsh, coordinator of the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas for Mass Audubon as saying.

There were 107 bald eagles in the state during the last count, in 2011 and there were 38 nests last year, the News Telegram article says. Preliminary results from the state’s first spring survey suggested the state’s bald eagle population would continue to increase.

Read the Kenosha News article, here.
Read the Georgia DNR press release here.
Read the Worcester News Telegram, here.

Photo: Bald eagle, by Dave Menke, used courtesy of the USFWS.


Mass. Plans Spring Eagle Survey

Bald_EagleMassachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is changing the timing of its annual survey of eagles from mid-winter to spring, according to a division press release (which I could not find on-line). The change is to better track the state’s growing breeding eagle population, rather than its over-wintering population.

“This is a good time to shift our focus to our growing population of resident, nesting birds,” said Tom French, Assistant Director of Natural Heritage and Endangered Species in the release. “For several years, we have been aware of resident eagles in areas where no nest has ever been found. By shifting annual surveys from midwinter to early spring, we hope to have cooperators and MassWildlife staff locate active nests for all known pairs and visit other bodies of water across the state to look for additional breeding eagles.”

Massachusetts began participating in the national midwinter count in 1979 when only eight bald eagles were reported in Massachusetts, the release says. The new Breeding Eagle Count will be similar to the Midwinter Eagle Survey.

More information on the survey will be available in a future issue of the Division’s MassWildlife News.

Photo by Dave Menke, courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

Tracking Gas Impact on Bald Eagles

There wasn’t a study of the impact on natural gas extraction on bald eagles before operations started in anticline region of the Green River Valley of Wyoming, so a new study will closely examine which habitats bald eagles in the area are using, and which they are not using, says an article in the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

The study is being conducted by Bryan Bedrosian of Craighead Beringia South, a non-profit science and education institute, and Susan Patla of the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish, the article says. According to the Craighead Beringia South website, the Bureau of Land Management is another partner in the study.

The research team has attached a solar-powered, rechargeable GPS/satellite tracking devices to six bald eagles, with the stated goal of tracking 12 bald eagles in total. The study is expected to last six years.

Details of the trapping method are described in the Jackson Hole News & Guide article. Read it here.
More details about the study are available on the Craighead Beringia South website. Here. (Includes a slideshow.)
See where the eagles with transmitters are flying, here.

Smoothing Ruffled Feathers

It took a long time to sort out, but this week the the federal Justice Department clarified its stand on native people possessing eagle feathers. The policy said that tribal members can possesses or wear feathers from bald or golden eagles. They can also lend, give or trade the feathers or bird parts to other tribal members, as long as money doesn’t change hands.

Further, tribal members can keep eagle feathers that they pick up off the ground, but they can’t kill or harass the federally protected birds to get the feathers. There’s a federal depository for eagles that were accidentally killed, and tribal members can apply to receive feathers or parts from the repository for ceremonial purposes.

The US Fish and Wildlife department also issues a few permits for tribal members to kill eagles for religious purposes.

The Summit County Citizens Voice was the article getting all the buzz. Read the article, here.
You can also check out the Washington Post‘s take on the issue, here.

But now that we have eagle situation solved, other migratory birds are an issue. An Alaskan man was stunned to find out that selling items decorated with bird feathers is illegal, the Anchorage Daily News reports. As a member of the Tlingit nation, he felt that he was just doing what his people had done for generations. He settled the case for a $2,005 fine.

Unfortunately, the article does not clarify how the federal Migratory Bird Act applies to tribal members, but it is likely that the rule is similar to the rule for eagle feathers and parts.

Read the Anchorage Daily News story here.

Photo by Dave Menke, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Longer Terms for Eagle Permits

The US Fish and Wildlife Service would like to extend the length of the permits they issue to wind energy operations and other activities that by their nature disturb or kill bald and golden eagles from a maximum of five years to 30 years.

It also wants to charge more for the permits, saying that the new charge will cover the true cost of the review. A 30-year permit will cost $15,600, a US Fish and Wildlife press release says. The release adds that those longer permits will only go to projects that make an effort to conserve the eagles.

Read the US Fish and Wildlife press release in its entirety, here. It includes many links, including more information about the rule, the rule-making process and instructions on how to submit your comments. Comments will be accepted until May 14, 2012.

There was no media coverage of the proposed change at the time this was written.

Getting the Lead Out of Eagles

Every year wildlife rehabilitors work with bald eagles suffering from lead poisoning, says an article in the Chronicle Herald of Canada. The article profiles one bald eagle rehabilitator in Nova Scotia who gives a vivid description of an eagle suffering from lead poisoning and pleads for the ban of lead ammunition.

Read the whole article here.

An interesting addition is a comment on the ProMed listserv yesterday, that says that in northern climes, there is a distict season for lead poisoning in bald eagles, from mid-November to March. It’s not the lead shot from waterfowl hunting that does these eagles in, the commenter says. The waterfowl have already migrated south. It’s the lead fragments found in gut piles and abandoned carcasses from deer hunting season.

Read the entire comment here.

These two eagle rehabilitators are hopeful, but the uphill battle on lead shot is illustrated by Iowa’s back-and-forth over the issue. Here’s a recent article from the DesMoines Register.

Photo: Karen Laubenstein, courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service

Iowa eagle cam goes viral

Not Iowans, but Alaskan eaglets

The live video feed from the bald eagle nest at the Decorah Fish Hatchery in Iowa has received 11 million hits, and at times has 100,000 viewers. It’s not the eagles, but the number of hits that is the subject of news stories from National Public Radio, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse (via Yahoo! News). (I had to link to a cached copy of the AP story because it disappeared off the internet.)

The video cam is sponsored by the Raptor Resource Project, a non-profit organization that creates, improves and maintains raptor nests in the Midwest, with the intent of boosting raptor populations. In the AP story, Raptor Resource Project executive director Bob Anderson says that a technology upgrade, funded by the Upper Iowa Audubon Society, may have boosted the site’s hits. This year the site has a better hosting platform and better video quality.

See the feed for yourself, at the Raptor Resource Project Web site (which was a little slow at the time this was posted) or excerpts on its YouTube channel.

It may be time to take advantage of the buzz by promoting your department’s own nest cams. Keep in mind, though, that the video quality on the Decorah eagle cam is the best that I’ve seen in a nest cam, so this news may mean that everyone else will need to upgrade to keep the public’s interest.

Photo: These bald eaglets in Alaska are a little older than the Iowa eagle nestlings were at the time of posting.
Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service