The least invasive sources of DNA are small feathers plucked from a bird’s breast. There are videos on YouTube that will show you how to do this in a way that is least distressing to the bird. For this DNA extraction protocol to work, the feathers need to be freshly plucked and not moulted.
When you have the feathers, use a new scalpel/razor blade on a clean surface (e.g. a cutting mat/non-scratch surface) to prepare two small sections from each feather of approximately 2 mm3 diameter.
- One section will be from the tip of the feather 1, which should have skin cells attached from being recently plucked.
- One section will be where the first feathers sprout from the calamus 2, as this area contains a DNA-rich blood clot (Horváth et al. 2005).
Place the feather sections in a PCR tube labelled on the top and side in permanent marker. To avoid sample cross-contamination, sterilise your scalpel/razor blade and cutting surface between feathers.
Even if you only have one sample, it’s good practice to label the tube clearly with a unique identifier for the feather used. It’s also a good idea to mark on the tube the date and to keep a note somewhere of which samples were prepared, and when.