North Dakota braces for alarming loss of bald eagles

Bald eagles are one of the greatest blessings the Missouri River brings to Bismarck/Mandan. It is heartbreaking to learn that their numbers nationwide are severely affected by the scourge of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

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According to The Associated Press, the US Department of Agriculture has confirmed nearly a thousand cases of bird flu in wild birds, including more than 50 bald eagles. Obviously, these numbers are significantly higher because many wild birds die in somewhat remote areas.

The current number of wild bird deaths is ten times that of the 2015 outbreak.

The scope of infections is also much wider as the virus has now been detected in birds in 34 states. This year’s variant has proven to be deadlier than previous strains, affecting ducks and geese at a far more alarming level than past bird flu epidemics. As people continue to encroach on wild bird habitats, their numbers have declined dramatically over the past 50 years.


Yet bald eagles have been one of the greatest success stories of this century.

With around 300,000 bald eagles in the country today – a population that quadrupled between 2009 and 2021 – the bird was removed from the US endangered species list in 2007.

Considering this, experts believe that the species should withstand the impact of this virus.

Certainly the problem with bald eagles, and all raptors for that matter, they are carnivores and scavengers. They are at risk of becoming infected when they feed. On the positive side, raptors generally do not associate with other birds in groups. It’s far too early to predict the continued impact on eagles, but there have been worrying indicators with a sharp drop in eagle breeding numbers reported in states like Georgia where many migratory birds overwinter.

Migratory birds that now carry the virus across the country.

Hopefully, the summer season will mark the end of the epidemic. But where have we heard this before? We hope for a spring and summer season filled with sightings of these majestic animals along the Missouri River and throughout the state.

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