We evaluated the feasibility and efficiency of using swabs to collect buccal epithelial cells from small (2- to 13-g) birds as a source of DNA for genetic studies. We used commercially available buccal swab kits to collect samples from 42 adult and 39 nestling (4- to 8-day-old) black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) and from 6 4-day-old nestling boreal chickadees (P. hudsonica). We compared DNA from buccal epithelial samples to that from blood samples from the same individuals. We extracted sufficient quantities of DNA for analysis from all buccal samples, and samples remained viable even after being stored in original plastic sampling tubes at room temperature for up to 18 months. Yields were equivalent whether extracted using the proprietary quick-extraction solution provided with buccal swab kits or using a salt-extraction process with inexpensive reagents. Yields of DNA from buccal samples were consistently lower than those from blood samples, but quantities were sufficient for all analyses. Assignment of sex, based on DNA extracted from paired buccal and blood samples, was identical for all 87 birds. We found no difference in the genotypes obtained from buccal and blood samples for 12 individuals tested using 5 microsatellite loci and found perfect concordance in sequencing of an 823-base-pair segment within the control region of mitochondrial DNA for 7 individuals tested. Use of buccal swabs is highly recommended as a rapid, noninvasive technique for sampling avian genomic DNA, especially for extremely young altricial nestlings or small-bodied adults, or for any birds for which blood sampling may be impossible or stressful.
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