Great Lakes region ruffed grouse hunters bird testing

The ruffed grouse West Nile virus surveillance project will enter year two this fall. The collaborative study began in 2018, between Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources and the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study group.

The study is being conducted to learn more about West Nile virus (WNV) exposure and infection in ruffed grouse in the Great Lakes region. Recently, WNV has become a topic of interest due to a rise in ruffed grouse testing positive for the disease. A study in Pennsylvania recently reported that WNV may have contributed to population declines in areas of lower-quality habitat or where habitat was scarce. In 2017, WNV was identified in 12 ruffed grouse in Michigan. The virus was confirmed in one ruffed grouse in the early 2000s in Minnesota and detected in Wisconsin ruffed grouse in 2018.

“Evaluating various impacts on grouse populations from influences like weather to the effects of disease is valuable information. By testing birds from key areas in the state, we hope to learn the extent to which ruffed grouse are being exposed to West Nile virus, and how it may be affecting them,” said laboratory technician Julie Melotti from the Michigan DNR Wildlife Disease Lab.

Participation from grouse hunters in the region will be an important component of the study. We encourage grouse hunters to voluntarily submit birds for testing.

Each state has a targeted sampling region and goal. During the 2018 grouse season, Michigan received 209 of the 400 desired samples, from select counties in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula. Additionally, the Michigan DNR has not documented any unexpected declines in grouse populations across the state and has no data to suggest the state’s populations are in peril. Further information on WNV in ruffed grouse and how to obtain sampling kits in Michigan can be found on the Michigan DNR’s WNV and Ruffed Grouse FAQ sheet.

Minnesota collected 273 sample kits of its 400-sample goal. This year, Minnesota is broadening the sampling area to include the statewide ruffed grouse range. Sampling kits will be made available on Sept. 3. For more information on obtaining a sampling kit, please visit the Minnesota grouse hunting webpage.

In 2018, Wisconsin confirmed its first three cases of West Nile Virus in ruffed grouse. The Wisconsin DNR received 238 ruffed grouse samples last year and plans to release 500 sample kits this year. Hunters interested in assisting the DNR in the surveillance study can obtain test kits from their local wildlife biologists. Contact information for the Wisconsin DNR and additional information regarding ruffed grouse is available online at Wisconsin’s ruffed grouse webpage.

The final test results from the first year of surveillance still are being analyzed and are expected by early fall. It is important to understand that many factors influence annual variations in grouse populations in the Great Lakes region.

The multi-year, multi-state design of this surveillance project is its strength, and we are grateful to have the collaboration of our neighboring states on this effort. These data, once received, will be looked at in the broader context of other variables over time.