Test results are in from the first year of a multi-state study on West Nile virus in ruffed grouse in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. These first-year results are showing that, while the virus is present in the region, exposed grouse can survive.
In 273 samples from grouse that hunters harvested in Minnesota during 2018, 34 samples (12.5 percent) had antibodies consistent with West Nile virus exposure that were either confirmed in 10 samples (3.7 percent) or likely in 24 samples (8.8 percent). The tests did not find the presence of virus in any of the ruffed grouse hearts, meaning the birds were not sick when harvested.
In Wisconsin, West Nile virus exposure was detected in 68 of 235 (29 percent) ruffed grouse blood samples with exposure to the virus either confirmed in 44 (19 percent) or likely in 24 (10 percent), and two grouse had virus present in their hearts. In Michigan, West Nile virus exposure was detected in 28 of 213 (13 percent) ruffed grouse blood samples with exposure to the virus either confirmed in nine (4 percent) or likely in 19 (9 percent), with four having virus present in their hearts.
“The study tells us that some birds that have been exposed to West Nile virus are surviving – both juvenile and adults – and they are not sick when harvested in the fall,” said Charlotte Roy, grouse project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “But this study does not tell us about birds that may have died from the disease over the summer.”
Research in other states points to good grouse habitat as one factor that can produce birds in better condition and better able to survive stressors like West Nile virus.
The DNR had asked grouse hunters to collect two types of samples to help determine if the birds were exposed to the virus: a blood sample to determine if the grouse had developed an immune response to the virus, and the heart to look for traces of viral genetic material. As in humans, ruffed grouse can build up antibodies in an immune response to viruses they encounter. Even when the body fights off an illness, these antibodies are left behind in the blood. Hunters who submitted samples in 2018 will be mailed a letter this fall notifying them of the test results of the birds they submitted.
“Thank you to all hunters who contributed samples last year, as well as hunters who are submitting samples this season,” Roy said.
Sample collection is continuing during the 2019 grouse hunting season. Ruffed grouse hunters can voluntarily submit samples if they are willing to collect blood on filter paper strips within 30 minutes of harvest, hearts, and a few feathers for sex and age determination, and are willing to provide harvest location information.
Sample collection kits have been available for pickup at DNR area wildlife offices within the ruffed grouse range since Labor Day on a first-come first-serve basis. Due to strong interest by hunters, many offices are already out of kits, so hunters should call ahead before stopping.
Read the full MN DNR article
"Audubon scientists took advantage of 140 million observations, recorded by birders and scientists, to describe where 604 North American bird species live today — an area known as their “range.” They then used the latest climate models to project how each species’s range will shift as climate change and other human impacts advance across the continent. The results are clear: Birds will be forced to relocate to find favorable homes. And they may not survive."
Hunter walking trails wind through prime grouse habitat throughout central and northern MinnesotaWritten By: Steve Hoffman
Minnesota has 600 miles of hunter walking trails located in the northern forested area of the state where grouse are most abundant. There are more than 200 hunter walking trails, and most have marked parking areas at the trailhead.“Hunter walking trails are a fun way to check out new areas and they do provide good hunting,” said Ted Dick, forest game bird coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “New hunters can follow these trails and not worry about getting lost or wandering off public land. And you can get away from trucks and four-wheelers and into some decent grouse habitat.”
An avid grouse and woodcock hunter himself, Dick has taken youth and new hunters on hunter walking trails over the years and uses the trails as a convenient way to discover new hunting areas.
The DNR partners with other organizations and land managers to maintain hunter walking trails. A $300,000 grant from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to the Minnesota Ruffed Grouse Society will restore approximately 200 trailheads and 80 miles of existing trails, add 20 miles of new trails and update trail maps for land managers and trail users.
The DNR and partners developed the system of hunter walking trails beginning in the 1970s. Timber harvest around the trails is the main tool used to create quality grouse and woodcock habitat. The trails wind their way through wildlife management areas, ruffed grouse management areas, state forests and other types of public land.
Downloadable maps of hunter walking trails and more information can be found on the hunter walking trails page at https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/hwt/index.html.
Read the full Duluth News Tribune article for more tips and info.