Grouse Exhibiting Abnormal Behaviors Could Have EEE, Mosquito-Borne Virus

Alicia Tipcke
Updated: November 20, 2019 11:06 AM

For the first time in Minnesota, eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) was confirmed to make a wild animal clinically ill. The Minnesota DNR confirmed on November 18 that three grouse found in Itasca County tested positive for the mosquito-born virus.


EEE is typically found in the eastern U.S. and along the Gulf Coast,  but has been found in Michigan and Wisconsin. The DNR reports that some wolves and moose in Northeastern Minnesota have been exposed to the disease in previous years, but none had actually become sick. 

"It's not too much to worry about yet, other than if you shoot a bird I wouldn't eat it if it appears sick or there's something wrong with it. But it's not spreading throughout the public or a safety threat to the general public," said Cloquet Area Wildlife Manager Chris Balzer with the Minnesota DNR. 

For those that hunt with dogs, Michelle Carstensen of the Minnesota DNR assures that EEE is not transmitted from grouse to dogs,"it’s transmitted only through the bite of an infected mosquito". 

As the Minnesota grouse season continues through January 1, hunters are advised to take note when grouse are behaving abnormally.

"Normal behavior for a grouse, when your walking down the trail, is that bird, when you get within a fairly close distance of it, it's going to either start running or fly. Abnormal grouse will just kind of walk around and not look real natural," said Brad Trevena, a grouse hunter.

This abnormal behavior could be an indicator the birds have EEE. The hunters that brought in the infected grouse in Itasca County noticed the birds weren't running or flying away. They also showed low muscle mass when being field dressed. 

If this behavior is noticed, the DNR suggest calling one of their wildlife offices to take a sample. 

The disease is rare in humans, but about 5-10 cases are reported annually in the U.S. according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. According to the CDC, about a third of human cases of EEE are fatal.


Alicia Tipcke

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