Avian Influenza impacting local bald eagle population
Back To The Wild has taken in a dozen sick eagles in recent weeks, and all of them have died.
TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The bald eagle population in our region has taken a hit in recent weeks. It’s because of H5N1 which is commonly called Avian Influenza, or Bird Flu. A wildlife rehabilitation center in Erie County has handled quite a few cases of the highly contagious and often deadly disease.
In an average year Back To The Wild takes in about a dozen injured or sick bald eagles. Many of them are able to return to their natural habitat. But in just the last few weeks, the wildlife rehab center has taken in about a dozen eagles, and none of them have survived.
Heather Tuttle has dedicated her life to helping injured, sick, and orphaned animals get back to the wild. She is the Assistant Director at Back To The Wild. “All of them died within hours of admission. One actually died within minutes of admission. When it comes to avian influenza we’ve not had an outbreak like this in our area.”
An eagle was brought in to the center while we were there Monday. It did not survive, and is believed to have had Bird Flu. “They’ll be unsteady with their head, unsteady on their feet. They are unable to use their wings. They may have seizures as well as a discharge from the mouth.”
Many of them have been young birds. “The majority of birds we’ve taken in are juvenile or immature bald eagles. That may have a lot to do with the fact that they are not as skilled at hunting. They will often scavenge and eat dead ducks and geese, which exposes them even more to the disease.”
Keeping the highly contagious disease from spreading takes a lot of extra steps. Staff members who work with birds that may have it wear PPE. There’s also a special quarantine space to help protect other birds that are there for treatment as well as the education birds that live at the center. “We converted a garage to a quarantine zone where those who work with the birds, handle no other birds for the rest of that day.”
While this has been a devastating blow, Heather says the local bald eagle population has made an incredible recovery in recent years. “We serve Erie, Sandusky and Ottawa counties which have the densest population of eagles in the state. Ottawa has 90 nests, Sandusky has 50 and there are 32 nests in Erie county. We have more nests here than any other part of the state, and that may be part of the reason we are seeing the high numbers here.”
Back To The Wild has also taken in geese and gulls believed to have Bird Flu. If you see a bird you think may have Avian Influenza, you’re asked to call your local wildlife center or state agency. Experts are hoping to see a decrease in cases as the weather warms up. The major carriers of the disease are ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys.
In addition to the sick and dying birds being brought to the center, a number others have been found already dead. While the numbers are upsetting, experts do not expect the Avian Flu to have a significant impact on the bald eagle population.
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