West Nile Virus Claims Life of Bald Eagle Rescued in McLean County, KY
A couple of months ago, my friend Crystal West had an unexpected visitor at her house in Calhoun, Kentucky. A bald eagle landed on the outbuilding nearest her home. Her son, Wyatt, noticed the eagle hanging there and it didn't take long for the family to realize something was wrong with it. At the time, however, they just didn't know what that "something" was.
Eventually, my friend Nikki Christian, who's a wildlife rehabilitation expert, was called to the scene and she came by to rescue the eagle. Here's video from that rescue.
That video eventually made the national news cycle and ABC news picked up the story and shared it nationwide.
Unfortunately, that story does not have a happy ending. I reached out to Nikki last week to get an update on that bald eagle, who, temporarily, had made himself right at home in her kitchen.
After rescuing the eagle and taking it home to examine it, Nikki transported him to the Western Kentucky Raptor Center here in Owensboro. The experts there confirmed Nikki's suspicions- the bird was infected with West Nile Virus. By the way, that's a disease that Nikki has encountered before. She has rescued several owls that have been infected with the virus. They, sadly, didn't make it either.
According the the CDC, West Nile Virus has been detected in over 300 species of dead birds. Here's that list and, yes, bald eagles are on it. There's no doubt that West Nile is potentially fatal for the birds it infects. And the fatality rate is much more significant in some bird species than others.
The CDC adds that some species, like crows and jays, "frequently die of infection", but most will survive. Raptors, however, like eagles, owls, falcons and hawks, can be very susceptible to the virus as well. Tragically, the eagle rescued in McLean County was proof of that. It had many of the common (and serious) symptoms. Those symptoms include stupor, disorientation, muscle weakness. Tremors, convulsions, paralysis and coma are also possible.
Birds get infected with West Nile just like humans do- through mosquito bites.
There was a recent study that shed light on this and drew an interesting parallel between virus transmission and robins. This is fascinating science.