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Where did we sample?

Goose banding surveillance


Our response to emergency

The DNR is among five state and federal agencies responding to the state's outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), which began March 2015, with the Minnesota Board of Animal Heath and Minnesota Department of Agriculture as lead agencies. The DNR coordinates with the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) to provide information and operational support to the emergency response. The outbreak now includes multiple poultry facilities in multiple Minnesota counties.

A lot is not known about the origin of this virus in Minnesota. DNR's goal is to determine if wild birds are harboring the HPAI virus and learn as much as possible about it, thus providing any critical information that might aid in stopping the outbreak or preventing further spread. More details are available in the DNR’s HPAI surveillance plan  PDF

Our Strategy

Initially, DNR implemented a three-pronged approach to HPAI surveillance:

  1. Collect waterfowl fecal samples throughout Minnesota;
  2. Ask successful turkey hunters from Kandiyohi, Pope, Meeker, Swift and Stearns counties to submit their harvested bird for testing;
  3. Collect dead birds of various species reported by the public.

DNR's goal was to collect 3,000 waterfowl fecal samples, which was completed April 30. Staff collected half the samples within Board of Animal Health identified surveillance areas and half in areas not currently affected by HPAI. Staff located areas used by waterfowl or enticed waterfowl to bait sites and collected samples and location data. DNR staff did not enter infected farm properties and did not capture live waterfowl because landscape conditions changed daily. At the time of the outbreak, fecal collection was the most efficient and feasible surveillance method. The agency collected hunter-harvested turkeys through May 28, the end of the spring season. Staff will continue to collect other dead birds reported by the public during the emergency.

While this virus is new, DNR conducted extensive HPAI surveillance from 2006-2010, when more than 12,000 birds were tested and no HPAI virus was detected, according to the research summary.

Goose Banding Surveillance

Annually, DNR biologists band thousands of geese throughout Minnesota during a short time period when birds undergo molt and are effectively flightless. This year, DNR researchers worked in concert with area wildlife staff to sample 619 Canada geese for avian influenza (AI). To conduct surveillance, researchers collected tissue samples from birds to test for active virus, and blood samples as part of a serologic study with the University of Georgia. This study is designed to help determine if past exposure to highly pathogenic AI can be found in blood serum. Currently, serological testing cannot distinguish between low and high pathogenic forms. This DNR collaboration will both advance serology diagnostic capabilities and contribute to making serology an additional surveillance tool for AI.
Of the 619 samples taken from geese, 307 were taken from areas with known poultry infections. The rest were from areas without infected facilities. This approach will allow researchers to draw statistical conclusions about AI virus prevalence and distribution in Minnesota.

Waterfowl

Since August, the DNR has collected more than 1,500 samples from ducks as part of an effort to look for the HPAI virus. Three projects drive this work.

The first involves the USDA national surveillance plan, which requires 545 dabbling duck samples from Minnesota watersheds over the course of summer, fall and winter 2015. Thus far, the DNR has collected 319 samples towards this goal.

The second project is a collaboration with the University of Georgia to detect both an HPAI immune response (from blood samples) and active shedding of virus (from oral and cloacal swabs) from live ducks. The data collection from this project is complete with 736 total samples, no active HPAI shedding detected, and pending serological results.

The third project comprising waterfowl sampling is focused on detecting active HPAI shedding in fall hunter-harvested dabbling ducks by sampling the bird’s tracheal and cloacal cavities. The DNR has a goal 800 samples, and in the first two weeks of the fall duck season has collected 498 samples.

As part of these efforts, the DNR collaborates extensively with other entities that are involved in avian influenza diagnostic testing, surveillance and research. DNR scientists continue to focus efforts on enhanced surveillance and monitoring of potential infections in wildlife.

Frequent Questions

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What have we learned from the testing?

After collecting and testing more than 5,000 samples from wild birds, nearly all of the test results are back and there have been two confirmed cases of wild birds testing positive for HPAI, a Cooper's hawk from Yellow Medicine County reported in late April, and a chickadee recovered in Ramsey County and delivered to a wildlife rehabilitation center in June.

Where did DNR collect fecal samples?

Sampling was statistically designed to provide a 95 percent probability of detecting avian influenza occurring at a prevalence of 1 percent or more. With a goal of 3,000 samples, the surveillance program was designed so that half the samples were taken in areas associated with active poultry infections and half from areas that are managed specifically for waterfowl and outside the original area of infection. Collections were occurring concurrent with the discovery of infected poultry farms. A total of 1,000 samples were collected from central Minnesota at the time farms were announced as infected.

What kind of avian influenza has been found in waterfowl?

No HPAI positives were found in the 3,138 fecal samples collected from wild ducks, but 3 percent of the samples were positive for low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI). Also, when DNR conducted widespread avian influenza surveillance of more than 12,000 ducks and geese from 2006 to 2010, no HPAI was found but up to 18 percent were positive for low path avian influenza. Other research has show that fecal sampling is a viable and acceptable AI surveillance method.

What are the results for hunter-harvested turkeys?

For hunter-harvested wild turkeys, 84 were submitted during the season and all were negative.

What has testing found out about dead wild birds?

Of the 81 dead wild birds submitted and tested so far, HPAI has only been found in the Cooper's hawk in Yellow Medicine County and the chickadee in Ramsey County

What do the positive tests in the Cooper's hawk and chickadee mean?

On April 29, a Cooper's hawk from Yellow Medicine County tested positive for H5N2, becoming the first Minnesota wild bird to test positive for the HPAI virus that has infected poultry farms across Minnesota. The presence of the H5N2 strain in this Cooper's hawk does not indicate where the bird contracted the virus. Cooper's hawks typically feed on small birds and mammals, not waterfowl. Raptors are believed to be highly susceptible to HPAI and may serve as good sentinels for the presence of the virus in an area.

The finding in the chickadee is the first confirmed case of the virus in a Minnesota songbird. While details are unknown about where or how the bird contracted the virus, it highlights the fact that HPAI can affect both domestic and wild birds.

Can waterfowl carry the virus?

Waterfowl are known to carry and potentially spread the virus. Ducks typically don't get sick or die from the virus.

What future testing is DNR planning?

The DNR plans to continue with the USDA national surveillance plan, which requires 545 dabbling duck samples from Minnesota watersheds over the course of summer, fall and winter 2015. Thus far, the DNR is more than half way toward this goal. The DNR also is sampling fall hunter-harvested dabbling ducks by sampling the bird’s tracheal and cloacal cavities. The DNR has a goal 800 samples, and in the first two weeks of the fall duck season has collected 498 samples. DNR scientists continue to focus efforts on enhanced surveillance and monitoring of potential infections in wildlife.

Will you be looking at serology (blood samples) to determine previous AI exposures of wild birds?

Over the summer, DNR researchers began collaborating in a serology research project looking for avian influenza antibodies in birds collected at a number of sites across North America. Serology involves drawing blood and looking for antibody responses that would indicate previous exposures to avian influenza. Serological sampling of avian influenza in wild birds is still in the research stage and can't be used as surveillance tool because a positive antibody result doesn't tell us if the bird was exposed to highly pathogenic avian flu. Researchers hope the serological work will help to better understand serologic signals to these viruses, to follow incursion and possible establishment of the viruses, and to optimize the most effective approaches to using this technique. So far, the data collection from this project is complete with 736 total samples and no active HPAI shedding was detected. Serological results are pending.



What can you do?

DNR statewide avian influenza sampling map.

Let us know if you find a dead wild turkey or raptor

DNR wildlife staff have been notified to be extra vigilant for sick or dead raptors (hawks, eagles, owls) and wild turkeys. They have received instructions on carcass handling if any are identified.

  1. Do not touch or move a dead or sick bird.
  2. Mark the location by GPS, if possible.
  3. Contact us with the coordinates.

Contact us

Note: Protocols are in place to sample these birds if it's determined that HPAI may be the cause of mortality.

At this time, we are only looking for raptors and wild turkeys. We are not taking samples on other species of birds unless five or more are found dead in the same location.

Additional resources:

Board of Animal Health:

Department of Health:

U.S. Department of Agriculture: