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Morphometric sex identification of nestling and free-flying Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagles (Aquila audax fleayi)

November 9, 2021

The endangered Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax fleayi) is the focus of continued research and conservation efforts. A tool for accurate and efficient identification of the sex of individuals would be a valuable aid to research and management. However, plumages are monomorphic between the sexes, making sex identification difficult without molecular analyses. Our aim was to assess whether Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagles of different age classes could be sexed accurately using morphological measurements. We took measurements of 25 live late-stage eagle nestlings and 108 carcasses of free-flying birds found opportunistically throughout Tasmania. Sex of all individuals was confirmed via genetic analyses. Free-flying birds were larger than nestlings; thus, we used age-specific statistical tools to distinguish the sexes. For both nestlings and free-flying birds, females were significantly larger than males, but overlap between the sexes prevented accurate sex identification using any single measurement. We used stepwise linear discriminant function analyses to select morphometric measurements necessary for accurate sex identification. Free-flying birds could be sexed with 97.6% accuracy using a combination of measurements of the forearm length, tarsus width (i.e., lateromedial width), and hallux length. Late-stage nestlings (9–10 wk old) could be sexed with 95.4% accuracy using measurements of the hallux width (i.e., lateromedial width), hallux breadth (i.e., anteroposterior width of hallux), and tarsus breadth (i.e., anteroposterior width of the tarsometatarsus at the narrowest point). The discriminate functions we present also allow the identification of sex in cases where morphological sex identification may be in doubt and molecular analyses should be prioritized. These equations provide a valuable research tool for studies of sexual differences in behavior and causes of mortality of this endangered subspecies.

Publication Year 2021
Title Morphometric sex identification of nestling and free-flying Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagles (Aquila audax fleayi)
DOI 10.3356/JRR-20-115
Authors James M. Pay, Todd E. Katzner, Jason M Wiersma, William E. Brown, Clare E. Hawkins, Kirstin M Proft, Elissa Z. Cameron
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Raptor Research
Index ID 70229675
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center