Wild birds play important roles in the maintenance and dispersal of tick populations and tick-borne pathogens, yet in field studies of tick-borne disease ecology and epidemiology there is limited standardization of how birds are searched for ticks. We conducted a qualitative literature review of 100 field studies where birds were searched for ticks to characterize which parts of a bird's anatomy are typically sampled. To increase understanding of potential biases associated with different sampling approaches, we described variation in tick loads among bird body parts using field-collected data from 459 wild-caught birds that were searched across the entire body. The literature review illustrated a lack of clarity and consistency in tick-searching protocols: 57% of studies did not explicitly report whether entire birds or only particular body parts were searched, 34% reported concentrating searches on certain body parts (most frequently the head only), and only 9% explicitly reported searching the entire bird. Based on field-collected data, only 22% of ticks were found on the head, indicating that studies focusing on the head likely miss a large proportion of ticks. We provide tentative evidence that feeding locations may vary among tick species; 89% of Amblyomma americanum, 73% of Ambloyomma maculatum, and 56% of Haemaphysalis leporispalustris were on body parts other than the head. Our findings indicate a need for clear reporting and increased standardization of tick searching methodologies, including sampling the entire bird body, to provide an unbiased understanding of the role of birds in the maintenance and emergence of tick-borne pathogens.
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Vol. 57 • No. 3