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First wild bird with avian flu found in Minnesota

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A Cooper's hawk in western Minnesota tested positive for the avian flu – the first wild bird in the state known to be infected with the deadly virus.

The hawk was collected in Yellow Medicine County by the DNR, as part of the agency's current surveillance program to try to keep tabs on the outbreak, the state announced Thursday morning.

Up until the announcement, the H5N2 avian influenza virus had only been recorded at commercial and domestic farms in the state, nearly all of them turkeys.

Later that day, the Department of Public Safety upped the total number of farms affected to 70, after three more flocks in the state (two in Stearns County, one in Otter Tail) were deemed a presumptive positive. The total number of birds affected in Minnesota now stands at 3,938,432.

The state is the nation’s largest turkey producer.

Yellow Medicine County, where the hawk was found, does not have any infected turkey farms, the DNR says, but nearby Lyon County does.

“This bird tells us our surveillance is working, but it unfortunately doesn’t provide many other clues about transmission of the virus,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager, adding this discovery doesn't mean wild birds are the direct cause of the outbreak at poultry farms.

Testing continues

The hawk was tested after a homeowner near St. Leo reported it flew into the house's deck and died, back on April 14, the DNR says.

It was collected by wildlife staff and sent to two labs – first in Wisconsin, then in Iowa – where it tested positive both times for the virus. In January, Washington state officials found bird flu in a Cooper's Hawk as well.

A positive test only means the bird was exposed – not that the virus killed it or that the bird spread influenza to other birds.

The DNR has collected 29 birds since beginning its surveillance program. Nine have tested negative, the remaining 20 have pending lab results. Thirty-seven wild turkeys, harvested by hunters, are also awaiting results from testing.

The DNR is also nearing its goal of collecting 3,000 fecal samples to test – so far, more than 2,200 have come back negative.

The DNR says it's believed birds of prey, such as a hawk, will die after contracting the virus. Waterfowl – thought to be the initial source of the outbreak and its spread – don't get sick or die.

Cooper's hawks likely contract it by eating infected prey.

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