Grouse hunters can volunteer to help collect samples for West Nile virus study

Ruffed grouse hunters in northern Minnesota can voluntarily submit samples for a West Nile virus research project being conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Minnesota is collaborating on this project with researchers in Wisconsin and Michigan, and will be sharing protocols and results. 

West Nile virus is known to exist in the upper Midwest and cases have been found in wild birds, people and other mammals. Birds vary in vulnerability to the virus. Some bird species recover quickly and become tolerant to the virus while others, such as blue jays and crows, suffer higher rates of mortality. The research seeks to examine exposure and active infections in ruffed grouse.

“Although the adult population has been cycling around a stable 10-year average, we don’t know if West Nile might be impacting the production of young birds, which make up a large portion of what hunters see in the fall,” said Charlotte Roy, grouse project leader with the Minnesota DNR.

Hunters who would like to assist with the project should be willing to collect blood samples and hearts from birds within 30 minutes of harvest. Collection kits will be available for pickup at the Bemidji and Grand Rapids regional DNR headquarters buildings beginning Monday, Aug. 27.

Researchers also will collect samples at the Ruffed Grouse Society National Hunt in October, Pineridge Grouse Camp, Bowen Lodge, Hoot-N-Holler, from private hunting guides, and by working with wildlife students at Bemidji State University to reach a sample size of 400 birds.

“This is an important citizen science collaboration for us. Working with hunters and students to collect the samples from harvested birds is critical to the success of the project,” Roy said.

Return postage and complete instructions are included in the kits. Samples also can be dropped off at Pineridge Grouse Camp near Remer.

West Nile virus is carried by infected mosquitoes. Not all people or animals bitten by an infected mosquito will contract West Nile virus. There have been no documented cases of people contracting West Nile virus from consuming properly cooked meat. Although the virus has been present in Minnesota for quite some time, a study in Pennsylvania indicated the virus could impact ruffed grouse populations when combined with habitat stresses.

The research is partially funded by the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Game and Fish Fund.

More information about ruffed grouse management can be found on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse. Questions about the West Nile virus study can be directed to Charlotte Roy at 218-328-8876 or charlotte.roy@state.mn.us.