Doug Smith
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Minnesota waterfowl hunters in seven western and central counties will be asked to have their ducks and geese tested for avian bird flu this weekend, as part of an effort to determine prevalence of the disease in waterfowl.

The waterfowl season opens Saturday.

The Department of Natural Resources will have field testing stations in Kandiyohi, Meeker, Morrison, Pope, Stearns, Swift and Todd counties. Staff will solicit hunters to volunteer their birds for sampling, which involves taking a quick swab from each bird.

“We’re asking hunters to help,’’ said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. “It just takes a few minutes.’’

Officials hope to test 800 waterfowl during the first two weeks of the season.

There are no food safety concerns even with a positive test, so hunters can take their birds home, officials said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking whole duck or goose to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Officials have sampled about 4,000 waterfowl since the outbreak of the flu in the state in March, and none tested positive for avian influenza.

“We’re looking at counties that had infections, and some that had none,’’ said Cornicelli.

Crews will be stationed at:

•Lake Osakis.

•Middle Fork Crow River, north of New London.

•Mud Lake state water access site, just west of the Burbank Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near the intersection of county roads 128 and 33.

•Dietrich Lange WMA at the Lake Calhoun public access.

•Yarmon WMA.

•Rice-Skunk WMA.

•Big Rice Lake public boat access.

•Kobliska WMA boat access on Long Lake.

•Quistorff WMA.

•Other hunting areas around Spicer, Pennock, Sunberg, Greenwald and Lake Lillian.

Since the outbreak of the flu in Minnesota in March, the DNR has only found two positive cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Minnesota wildlife — a Cooper’s hawk from Yellow Medicine County and a black-capped chickadee from Ramsey County.

The outbreak resulted in the deaths of 48 million domestic chickens and turkeys, primarily in the Upper Midwest. Minnesota lost about 5 million turkeys and 4 million egg-laying hens.