DNR: West Nile virus impacting Minnesota loon population

Updated: July 18, 2019 05:35 PM

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports a recent uptick in dead loons, and test results indicate an impact from West Nile virus (WNV), according to nongame wildlife staff at the DNR.

According to a release, the Veterinary Diagnostic Labratory at the University of Minnesota confirmed WNV as the cause of death in two of three dead loons from the northeastern part of the state, earlier this month. Wildlife staff are reportedly receiving a small but noticeable increase in calls from people finding the dead birds in the area this summer.


Lori Naumann with the DNR's Minnesota Nongame Wildlife Program said this is the first time in a decade she's seen West Nile Virus kill loons in Minnesota.

Naumann said, earlier this month West Nile Virus killed a family of loons in St. Louis County. She said it is raising eyebrows, but the DNR still has a lot to uncover.

"We haven't seen it in a long time," Naumann said. "So what made these birds susceptible? What made all four of them susceptible? Was it just one mosquito that carried the virus to all four of them?"

Birds are especially susceptible to West Nile but they are not the only animals that can get sick and even die from the virus. The Minnesota Board of Animal Health tracks West Nile exposure in livestock with the virus being most common in horses.

Naumann said loons have built up a resistance to the virus, but added, "We are always concerned about their population. It does remain stable."

WNV has been documented as a cause of loon mortality in Minnesota as early as 2005, according to the DNR. Most animals and people are able to fight off the virus. Researchers are attempting to discover the rates of infection toward birds.

RELATED: National Loon Center coming to Crosslake

The DNR notes that loons can die from a variety of illnesses and injuries, and individual bird deaths are a normal occurrence and not cause for alarm.

White Bear Lake resident Paul Schultz said he loves loons and walks around the lake everyday looking for them. He said he heard and saw one on Wednesday, so he was surprised to learn on Thursday that a family of loons died.

"I'll keep on the lookout, because it's our state bird," Schultz said.

Lake homeowners and other lake users who see two or more dead loons on a single lake with no obvious injury or cause of death are asked to email the nearest DNR nongame wildlife staff for tracking. You can find that information below.

For more information on the DNR's Nongame Wildlife Program and the Loon Monitoring Program, click here.

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Tommy Wiita and Brandi Powell

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