OGDEN -- Four more ailing bald eagles are in an Ogden wildlife rehab center as the number of dead or dying national icons has reached 20.
Officials said Friday the death toll since the first of the month reached 16 by Christmas as three more dead birds and four more disabled were found since the weekend.
Preliminary laboratory tests have also ruled out lead poisoning as a cause of death as well as a particular vascular disease, they said.
"Thanks to people being vigilant and reporting the ailing birds to wildlife officials quickly, these four have come to us in better condition than the previous birds," said DaLyn Erickson, director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah. "So we're cautiously hopeful they could survive."
Of the four surviving birds, one was found Sunday in Bountiful, and another Monday close to Interstate 15 in Box Elder County, said Leslie McFarlane, coordinator of the Wildlife Disease Program of the state Division of Wildlife Resources. Another bird was found in Bountiful Monday and the fourth was found in West Point on Christmas Day, she said.
Officials ask that anyone encountering the giant raptors suffering from tremors and paralysis contact DWR offices in Ogden (801-476-2740), Vernal, Springville, Cedar City or Price with the animal's location. The Help Stop Poaching Hotline, 1-800-662-3337, is another option on weekends and holidays and after hours.
McFarlane said she has now contacted all the Western states as well as Alaska and provinces in Canada about the bald eagle die-off and northern Utah is alone in the outbreak.
She also said the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., which is conducting the laboratory analysis on eight of the dead Utah birds, reports they are not examining anything on the scale of the Utah bald eagle problems.
"No one is experiencing what we are experiencing right now," McFarlane said.
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As of 4:30 p.m. Friday, she had received no new reports of dead or dying eagles since Christmas. But the day was filled with 10 or more media calls, including the Washington Post and NBC, she said.
Monday and Tuesday the media calls had eased with the ongoing news about same-sex marriages statewide. "That was a relief," she said. "It gave me a break."
Among the possibilities being investigated is the eagles were afflicted after feeding on diseased eared grebes. "Bald eagles are typically scavengers," McFarlane said.
About 2 million of the sparrow-sized grebes stop over the Great Salt Lake to feed off brine shrimp each winter on their way south, and several thousand normally die there. This year a larger grebe die-off has occurred since Nov. 8 of some 20,000 of the grebes, she said, with avian cholera suspected.
Testing of the grebes has been under way in the same Wisconsin lab where the eagles are being examined, with results still pending. The grebes are being re-examined there, McFarlane said, since the eagle die-off started. "We're hoping for results early next week."
Bald eagles normally don't nest in Utah, she said, with only a few breeding pairs known to hatch their young here. With the 700 to 1,200 bald eagles that winter in the state for weeks or months coming from other areas, she said that raises the slight possibility that what's killing them could be located out of state. "Except for lead poisoning," she said, "we haven't ruled anything out."
Erickson at the Ogden rehab center said all the sick eagles she's seen suffered from encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, and many had heart damage.
Contact reporter Tim Gurrister at 801-625-4238, firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tgurrister.