Wild turkey hunters in five Minnesota counties are being asked to bring the birds they shoot to Department of Natural Resources offices to be tested for the highly pathogenic avian flu.
Starting Monday, the agency is asking hunters in Kandiyohi, Pope, Meeker, Swift and Stearns counties to call local DNR wildlife offices to schedule an appointment to bring their birds in for testing. Sampling takes just a few minutes, and the hunter will retain the bird.
Officials are trying to find sources of the avian flu that so far has decimated 26 domestic turkey flocks in 14 Minnesota counties, resulting in the loss of 1.6 million birds.
“[Avian flu] has not yet been found in wild turkeys, but it has been found in domestic turkeys in these and other Minnesota counties,” said Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program supervisor. “We chose those five counties to enlist the help of hunters because they have sufficient wild turkey populations.”
The DNR also is asking the state’s turkey hunters and others to watch for signs of the illness in wild turkeys or raptors this spring, and to report any dead birds to DNR officials. About a dozen turkeys, raptors and other birds have been turned in for testing, but so far none have been found to have avian flu, and officials say it appears the birds died of natural causes or may have been hit by vehicles.
The agency has collected 915 fecal samples from waterfowl — which are believed to be the source of the virus — and test results have come back on 378, all of which were negative. DNR officials hope to collect 3,000 samples from waterfowl and 300 from wild turkeys brought in by hunters.
The wild turkey samples will require a swab of the trachea and, if the bird has not yet been field-dressed, a swab of the cloaca, or posterior opening.
The spring wild turkey season opened Wednesday and runs through May 28.