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DNR asking for samples of harvested grouse to test for West Nile virus

August 16, 2019 by Jacob Friede

Ruffed grouse season is right around the corner, beginning in zone A on Sept. 14, and like last year, the Department of Natural Resources is asking hunters who harvest a grouse to submit a sample of their bird to be tested for West Nile virus.

As part of a multi-year study, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) is monitoring the presence of West Nile virus in the state’s grouse population.  

“Ultimately what we’re wanting to find here is some baseline information on exposure rates of ruffed grouse to West Nile virus,” WDNR wildlife biologist Mark Witecha said. 

The monitoring program is a collaboration with the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, the Ruffed Grouse Society, and the Michigan and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Those interested in submitting a sample may request a West Nile Virus sampling kit from their local DNR wildlife biologist. The kit includes all materials to take the sample, as well as detailed instructions and a return envelope with postage already paid. Any unused kits distributed last year may be used this year as none of their contents expire.

To take a sample, hunters are asked to collect the birds heart, as well as a couple drops of blood on an absorbent piece of paper supplied in the kit.

“That allows us to essentially check for an active viral infection as well as past infection by collecting those two samples,” Witecha explained.

The DNR is also asking for a few feathers to determine the age and sex of the bird.

There is no risk of contracting West Nile virus by collecting a sample, it is only passed through mosquitos, though Witecha recommends people wear gloves whenever handling a bird as a precaution against other diseases.

Last year, which was the first of the three year study, 500 kits were distributed and 238 were returned. The results of those test kits are still being analyzed.

“We’re hoping to have those results soon and we will definitely be sharing those as soon as we get those from the lab that’s conducting all of these analysis,” Witecha said.

In addition to the West Nile testing kits, the DNR is asking anyone out and about in the woods this fall who encounters a sick or dead grouse to report the location to their local wildlife biologist.

Last year, 16 birds which were found dead or sick were submitted to the DNR and three of them tested positive for West Nile Virus. 

“Those were the first detections in ruffed grouse here in the state,” Witecha said.

Because West Nile virus is passed through mosquitos, it’s prevalence varies with their population. That is why the study was scheduled for three years.

“In order to, I guess, have a robust enough data sample to be able to analyze, it is going to be a multi-year study and I’d say the major conclusions of the study we won’t be able to draw until we have all three years of data,” Witecha said. “With a disease like this that is spread by mosquitos, the prevalence of it can vary greatly from year to year so we’re trying to look at how those exposure rates might vary from year to year here in Wisconsin.”    

For more information on ruffed grouse management as well as contact information to request a kit visit dnr.wi.gov and keyword search “ruffed grouse management.”

Jacob Friede may be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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