Avian Flu: Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Virus Wiping Out Unprecedented Number of Bald Eagle Mating Pairs

Due to their recovery from near extinction in the 1960s, bald eagles are frequently cited as a massive conservation success story.

However, a highly contagious virus may now jeopardize that hard-fought comeback.

Less than half of Georgia bald eagle nests fledged one chick in 2022


(Photo : JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images))

Even one year of productivity losses, as documented regionally, is very concerning and could have long-term consequences if representative of larger regions, according to Nicole Nemeth, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“I couldn’t sleep some nights because of what we were hearing and seeing. We have already lost an unprecedented number of wild birds in the United States as a result of this virus, and it appears to be here to stay,” Nemeth said, according to ScienceDaily.

The researchers discovered that in 2022, just under half of bald eagle nests along Georgia’s coast successfully fledged at least one eaglet.

This is 30% lower than the regional average.

The study also found that the success rate for nests in one Florida county had been cut in half, dropping to 41% from an average of 86.5%.

Another Florida county saw a less dramatic but still concerning drop from an average of around 78% to 66.7%.

Nemeth received heartbreaking reports from people who faithfully monitor eagle nests year after year about an adult eagle found dead below their nest.

H5N1 does not pose a significant threat to humans, but it may do so to other species

Birds that live in coastal or other aquatic areas inland, or that prey on other birds that do, are most vulnerable to infection.

Given the right conditions, the virus can survive in water for more than a year.

While not a threat to humans, birds can pick up the virus while swimming and spread it to new locations during migration.

When raptors such as eagles and vultures consume infected birds, they contract the virus.

In North America, H5N1 has infected wild mammals, such as red foxes, coyotes, racoons, seals, opossums, and even some bears.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, very few people in the United States have been infected with the virus and have recovered with minimal symptoms.

A virus that can spread and maintain itself as well as this virus is now found everywhere, according to Nemeth.

“We can’t contain the virus, and we can’t vaccinate wild birds. But we can document the losses and try to help conserve affected species and populations the best we can,” she added.

Also Read: Bald Eagle Deaths Rise as Bird Flu Continues to Spread Across the United States

Bald Eagle Management

The magnificent bird that symbolizes our nation is being brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to the efforts of New York’s program and those in other states and Canada, as per Department of Environmental Conservation.

Higher population levels and successful reproduction mean that the bald eagle is in better shape today than it has been in the last half-century.

 In fact, the bald eagle has been removed from the Federal Endangered Species List as a result of these efforts.

In New York, its status has been upgraded from Endangered to Threatened. More than 170 pairs of eagles nest in the state today.

DEC’s Eagle program is involved in a number of research projects. The national Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey (link leaves DEC website) includes aerial and ground observation by DEC and public cooperators.

DEC is participating in a multi-year intensive study with the National Park Service to determine the essential habitats and behaviors of bald eagles on the Upper Delaware River.

DEC has been satellite-radio tagging migrant bald eagles since 1992, and is now using solar-powered transmitters to tag fledglings from New York State nests.

The eagle program in New York includes intensive searching for and confirmation of new breeding pairs, as well as monitoring of known breeding pairs of bald eagles.

During the nesting season, program staff attempt to verify every report of adult eagles, locate or confirm any new nests, and visit every known bald eagle nesting location in the state.

Related article: Live Stream of Pittsburgh Bald Eagle Nest, One of Three Eggs Hatched Already [VIDEO]

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