(NewsNation) — A flu infecting birds nationwide is being blamed for the deaths of bald eagles in 14 states.
Avian influenza has affected a variety of species as it spread through America’s bird population, but now it is attacking a national symbol of the United States.
“You’re talking about just an amazing creature, who is the top of the food chain, who’s got a 6-foot wingspan, who everybody stops and still looks at when they see in the wild, something that is highly engaging in the public,” said Dr. Victoria Hall, executive director of the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota
The bald eagle has been the national bird of the United States since 1782, lives only in North America and represents strength and dignity.
It is a bird species that has already endured so much.
“They went on the endangered species list after (insecticide) DDT. Their numbers plummeted,” Hall said. “We came together as a community and really got their numbers back up to very healthy populations.”
Within the last two months, scientists report more than 30 bald eagles have died from avian influenza, and the symptoms are difficult to witness.
Birds that contract the flu suffer seizure-like symptoms and veterinarians tell NewsNation that ultimately there’s nothing they can do but put the birds down.
“These birds come in with severe seizures. They won’t be able to stand, some of them are vocalizing. Unfortunately, it’s really hard, hard to work with these birds just because of the amount of suffering even though we have world-class raptor veterinarians,” Hall said. “We really don’t have any tools left to help them.”
Officials believe avian influenza is primarily being spread by the droppings of wild birds.
Experts around the country call this strain of avian influenza the worst outbreak since 2015 and more potent to a diverse number of bird species.
“This outbreak is much more widespread across the United States. And it is in dramatically more wild birds,” Hall said. “So what that means is we’ve got a lot of questions on how this one’s going to play out.”
Bird flu has been confirmed in U.S. zoos, but officials said they won’t order widespread euthanasia of zoo birds the way they have on farms.
Nearly 27 million chickens and turkeys have been slaughtered in 26 states to limit the spread of bird flu during this year’s outbreak. Officials order entire flocks to be killed when the virus is found on farms.
Scientists expect that this year’s avian influenza will abate when summer weather hits, as it typically dies off when North America experiences hotter temperatures and drier weather.