Testing sage grouse for West Nile Virus
by Wyoming Game & Fish
July 16, 2006
All Wyomingites, especially landowners, are being asked to assist in the management of the state's trademark sage grouse populations by immediately reporting dead sage grouse so they can be tested for West Nile Virus. Past research has shown sage grouse have low resistance to the disease and is usually fatal to the birds.
Tom Christiansen, the Game and Fish Department's sage grouse coordinator, said this year's warm temperatures might fuel virus production in mosquitoes, which might lead to higher numbers of sage grouse being infected with West Nile.
"Testing the birds will help us monitor the scope and impact of the disease across the state," Christiansen said. "We are particularly interested in sage grouse, as well as other game birds, that are found in remote areas that show no visible signs of death. These may occur near water holes or hay fields on private lands."
He added that obvious road kills should not be reported.
In 2003, the first year the disease was detected in sage grouse, tests conducted by the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory confirmed the disease claimed at least 11 sage grouse in the Powder River Basin and one bird each in Carbon, Fremont, Park, Natrona and Sweetwater counties. In 2004 and 2005 combined, only five sage grouse, all from the Powder River Basin, were found to have succumbed to the disease. Temperature differences between 2003 and 2004-2005 are believed to have contributed to the difference. The summer of 2003 was warmer than normal while 2004 and 2005 were cooler than normal.
Although the chance of getting the virus from handling a dead bird is remote, picking up the birds with an inverted plastic sack while wearing gloves is recommended. The bagged carcass should then be placed into another plastic bag, preferably a trash bag, and tied. If it can't be delivered shortly to the Game and Fish, the bird should be frozen. Christiansen emphasized the need to report dead birds quickly so they don't deteriorate to the point they can no longer be tested.