A highly contagious and deadly strain of bird flu spreading among farms and wild birds in the United States has claimed the lives of bald eagles.
Three bald eagles found dead in Georgia have tested positive for the new H5N1 flu strain, the state Department of Natural Resources announced this week. The statement also noted that a survey of bald eagles near the Georgian coast found more “missed nests” than expected, with some containing dead eaglets. It was not immediately clear if the nesting failures were due to bird flu.
In the past month, H5N1 has also killed eagles in Maine, Ohio, South Dakota and Vermont, NPR reported. The Back to the Wild wildlife rehabilitation center said earlier in April that a dozen fatally ill eagles had been brought in, usually too sick to fly and unsteady on their feet.
“All died within hours of being admitted,” Heather Tuttle, deputy director of Back to the Wild, told local news channel WTVG. “One of them even died a few minutes after his admission. As far as avian flu goes, we haven’t had an outbreak like this in our area.
Once deeply endangered in the lower 48 states, bald eagles are widely considered a major conservation success story. However, Steve Holmer of the American Bird Conservancy noted in 2018 that while the eagles are no longer listed as endangered, people should “stay alert” to continue protecting the birds.
H5N1 has been detected in 25 states and has also been found in a myriad of other wild birds including owls, geese, ducks and vultures. But its biggest toll has been on domestic chickens and turkeys. More than 20 million birds have been killed on farms where the flu has been detected in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, zoos across North America have kept their birds indoors, fearing the virus could be devastating if one of the avian residents caught it.
Health officials have said the risk to human health at this time is low. There has been only one known case of H5N1 in humans, a person in England who kept birds and was asymptomatic.