Traditionally, the identification of blood parasites has been based on visual examination of blood smears. This approach depends on individual expertise in making blood smears and identifying parasites, which can vary widely from person to person. Recent work has shown that reading blood smears is significantly less sensitive than using molecular studies in identification. Thus, the accuracy of the data can fluctuate greatly. This project compares the ability of investigators to identify infected birds using microscopes and blood smears with their ability to identify infected birds through molecular analysis of blood from the same sample.
During fall migration (September – October) 2011, raptors were trapped at the Idaho Bird Observatory near Boise, Idaho. Blood samples were collected from both jugular and wing veins. Blood smears were made and some of the blood was stored for subsequent molecular analysis. Species of interest were American kestrels (Falco sparverius), Cooper’s hawks (Accipter cooperi), northern goshawks (A. gentilis), sharp-shinned hawks (A. striatus), and red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis).
Avian malaria parasite lineages (Plasmodium and Haemoproteus spp.) and Leucocytozoon occur in Accipitridae and Falconidae and were analyzed for prevalence via blood smears, DNA extractions, and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) screening. By comparing and contrasting these two techniques I identify parasite prevalence that was previously undefined or misidentified through visual screening. Using molecular methods could impact the current taxonomic assessments based on parasite morphological descriptions and potentially impact future management and conservation efforts of wild raptors and their vectors.