Ruffed grouse hunters can assist wildlife health officials in a multiyear study monitoring for West Nile virus (WNV) in ruffed grouse by submitting samples from their harvested ruffed grouse. 

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is collaborating with the Minnesota and Michigan DNRs, the Ruffed Grouse Society and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress to conduct the study.

This effort will focus on the core ruffed grouse range in the central and northern forests.

The DNR has assembled 500 self-sampling kits for ruffed grouse hunters to use in 2019. The WNV sampling kits contain detailed instructions and all the supplies needed to collect and ship one sample. Hunters will be asked to collect a small amount of blood, a few feathers and the heart from their harvested grouse.

If a hunter has a leftover unused kit from 2018, they can use that kit and send it in this year for processing, as there is no expiration date for the materials included in the kit.

People who hunt the central and northern forests and would like to participate in the WNV study can request sampling kits through their county wildlife biologist. They will be available for pickup in early September. The number of kits provided per individual may be limited to ensure samples come from a large geographic area.

Hunters will be provided test results via email. However, testing of samples will not begin until after the grouse season has closed and final results will not be available for several months after the close of the season.

WNV is transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito and there is no evidence that WNV can be spread by handling dead birds or by consuming properly cooked game. It is one of several bird diseases afflicting native bird species.

Sick and dead birds

In addition to collecting samples from harvested ruffed grouse, the DNR is asking the public to report any sick or dead grouse observed while out in the field.

Anyone who sees a ruffed grouse that appears sick or emaciated, or who finds a freshly dead grouse, should take note of the location and promptly call a county wildlife biologist for possible testing and to help track reports statewide.

People who are willing to collect the carcass for testing should keep the entire bird intact and place it into a plastic bag and keep the bird cool, but not frozen. Take the whole ruffed grouse carcass to a county wildlife biologist the same or next day. Prompt collection of ruffed grouse is necessary to prevent decomposition or scavenging. It is recommended people wear gloves whenever handling dead animals, even those that appear healthy.

If refrigeration and prompt delivery are not possible, carcasses should be frozen and submitted to county wildlife biologists as soon as possible.

Carcasses in poor condition such as scavenged with openings into the body cavity, having an odor or more advanced decomposition will not be usable for testing, but people should still take note of the location and report these sightings to county wildlife biologists.