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DNR records first loon deaths caused by West Nile virus (2005-08-30)
An entire family of four common loons has died after being infected with the West Nile virus on Sandy Lake near Zimmerman in early August. The deaths from West Nile encephalitis are the first to be reported in Minnesota.

According to Carrol Henderson, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Nongame Wildlife Program supervisor, local homeowners had placed an artificial nesting platform to attract nesting loons and were thrilled when a pair of loons nested for the first time on Sandy Lake. The loons raised two chicks that were nearly full grown by early August.

On Aug. 6, the loons were acting and swimming in a listless, disoriented manner. A concerned lake resident who took a boat out to check on the loons found them swimming in small circles. One loon was unable to right itself in the water. Three of the four loons died within a five-hour period. On Aug.10, the fourth loon was acting listless and was found dead the next day.

The four loons were turned over to the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program for laboratory analysis. DNR Pathologist Joe Marcino analyzed two of the dead loons and reported they had died of West Nile virus.

"This disease is virulent enough to kill all of the birds in a short period of time," Marcino said.

Henderson noted this is the first time that loons have been documented to die from West Nile virus in Minnesota.

"Minnesota has a loon population of approximately 12,000 that appears to be stable, but we need help from Minnesotans to ensure they stay that way," Henderson said.

Henderson asks lakeshore residents to help keep track of loons and report any dead loons to the DNR by calling (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

"The months of August and September carry the highest risk for West Nile virus," Henderson said. "People need to take precautions to reduce the possibility of mosquito bites at this time of year."

Henderson suggests checking the Minnesota Department of Health Web site for more information on West Nile virus at or calling the Department of Health at (612) 676-5414 or toll free 1-877-676-5414.
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