Nightly News   |  December 26, 2013

Family rescues bald eagle during hike

A team of researchers is investigating a mysterious and deadly illness taking the lives of a treasured national icon: the bald eagle. So far, 16 of the majestic birds have died. To learn more, please visit the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah at NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now to a growing mystery tonight in the american west . an unknown illness taking the lives of our treasured national symbol . in northern utah more than a dozen bald eagles have died this month alone. a team of researchers from across the country is working to figure out what's behind it fearing the cases could spread. miguel almaguer has the report from bountiful, utah .

>> reporter: what began as a family hike through utah 's rugged back country turned into a rescue. the bald eagle , one of our country's most majestic creatures, was spotted in trouble by taylor schulte and his father-in-law bob carter .

>> within seconds you could tell it was a bald eagle . the distinct features. white head , big yellow beak. it was almost immediate. that's a bald eagle down. it clearly couldn't fly.

>> reporter: using his go pro camera he recorded the experience.

>> i have never seen a bald eagle that close.

>> reporter: they dell ricately rapped the bird with its six-foot wingspan and razor sharp beak.

>> how is it doing?

>> nervous.

>> reporter: keeping the eagle calm t at home until wild life experts arrived.

>> then it just became our friend. we took it home and watched football.

>> it was awesome.

>> reporter: the eagle was brought to the wildlife rehabilitation center where it joined three other sick bald eagles .

>> we don't have all the pieces of the puzzle together yet. this could be the end of it or this could be the tip of the iceberg . we don't know.

>> reporter: it is alarming. so far this month, 16 bald eagles have died from the same illness. blood work from the infected birds discovered in the region have been sent to a lab for testing. those results could be back in days or weeks and could be the first clue into solving the mystery. bald eagles are no longer an endangered species but are still federally protected.

>> it is a symbol of our country, too. the bald eagle is what american stands for. to see one hurt, injured, that's not what you want to see.

>> reporter: tonight in utah , something is killing the majestic creature. now the race against time to save them. miguel almaguer, nbc news, bountiful, utah .