Rise In Bald Eagle Deaths From West Nile Virus
For Immediate Release
Jan Williams, College of Veterinary Medicine, 612-624-6228
Molly Portz, Academic Health Center, 612-625-2640
U of M Raptor Center says increase is troubling
MINNEAPOLIS/ST.PAUL (Sept. 20, 2004) - The University of Minnesota Raptor Center has confirmed West Nile virus as the cause of death of four adult male bald eagles from Minnesota and Wisconsin. Diagnostic tests on the eagles were conducted by the University's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the Minnesota Department of Health. The eagles exhibited neurological signs including head tremors, blindness, and seizures.
"We may have to change our view of this," said Patrick Redig, D.V.M., director of the Raptor Center. "Each year we've learned something new about West Nile virus. We won't know for some time the extent to which this disease may be affecting bald eagles, but it is definitely something to be concerned about."
Minnesota and Wisconsin are home to more than 1,500 pairs of bald eagles and an unknown number of young non-nesting birds. Many of them could be at risk from this disease. The bald eagle is still listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
West Nile virus entered the United States in 1999. It is now found in all lower 48 states and parts of Canada and Mexico. It was found in raptors in Minnesota in 2002. The virus is carried in birds and spread by bites of mosquitoes that feed on both birds and mammals, including humans. While more than 250 species of birds have been victims of the disease, crows, jays, and selected species of raptors, including great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, and Cooper?s hawks, have been hardest hit. The Raptor Center admitted 71 raptors with West Nile virus in 2002, none of which were bald eagles. In 2003, approximately half that number was admitted, of which only one was a bald eagle. Reports of West Nile virus in bald eagles elsewhere have been rare and up to now, they were regarded as being relatively resistant.
The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota seeks to improve the health of raptors and the world we share through teaching, research, and service. Annually, more than 800 raptors, injured, diseased, or poisoned, are treated by its staff and volunteers, and since 1974, nearly 15,000 raptors have been treated. The Raptor Center's staff provides educational programs about raptors, their environment, and their relationship to humans and human health to more than 150,000 people each year. The Raptor Center, a program within the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, is supported by private funds. For more information about West Nile virus or the programs of The Raptor Center, visit www.theraptorcenter.org or call 612-624-4745.