ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is asking ruffed grouse hunters in northern Minnesota to submit samples for a West Nile virus research project.

Researchers will test hunter-harvested birds for exposure and active infections of the disease.

“We want to learn more about West Nile virus in ruffed grouse because of concerns that it 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.

The ruffed grouse is the most popular game bird in Minnesota, attracting as many as 92,000 hunters and an average annual harvest of more than 500,000 birds. The adult grouse population has been cycling around a stable 10-year average.

Minnesota is collaborating on this project with researchers in Wisconsin and Michigan. This is the second year of the study and results from the first year are expected from the lab early this fall. The research is partially funded by the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Game and Fish Fund.

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West Nile virus has been present in Minnesota since the early 2000s, 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 mortality rates. A study in Pennsylvania indicated the virus could impact ruffed grouse populations when combined with habitat stresses.

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.

How to participate

Hunters who would like to assist with the project will need to collect blood on filter paper strips within 30 minutes of harvest. They will also be asked to provide the birds’ hearts and few feathers for sex and age determination.

Collection kits will be available at DNR area wildlife offices within ruffed grouse range after Labor Day, and at the regional DNR headquarters in Bemidji and Grand Rapids. Return postage and complete instructions are included in the kits.

More information about ruffed grouse management can be found on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/hunting/grouse.