Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Reliability of external characteristics to age Barrow’s goldeneye

September 18, 2020

Accurate assignment of age class is critical for understanding most demographic processes. For waterfowl, most techniques for determining age class require birds in hand, reducing utility for quickly and efficiently sampling a large portion of the population. As an alternative, we sought to establish an observation‐based methodology, achievable in the field with standard optics, for determining age class of Barrow's goldeneyes (Bucephala islandica). We photographed heads, wings, and bellies of 232 Barrow's goldeneyes captured during late winter (February–April) of 2007–2015 along the north Pacific Coast. From these photographs, we focused on 5 external characteristics for both males and females, with binary states that putatively corresponded to 2 age classes—first‐year birds (<1 yr) and adults (>1 yr). For males, all 5 external traits (belly color, head color, eye color, facial crescent, median secondary coverts color) had binary states that were reliably distinguishable by observers. Moreover, all 5 external traits were highly predictive of age class (≥96% concordance between external vs. bursal‐derived ages), and novice observers, after receiving training, were able to accurately age 96% of first‐year and 99% of adult males. In contrast, patterns were weaker for females; putative external characteristics of female age class (belly color, bill radiance, bill blackness, eye color, median secondary coverts color) had 77–91% concordance with bursal‐derived age, compared with 96–100% for males, and observers misidentified age classes of 15% of females, compared with only 2% of males. Overall, age classes of male Barrow's goldeneyes were accurately and reliably distinguishable during winter based on several external characteristics, whereas those of females were not. Our technique may be used to estimate age composition of male Barrow's goldeneyes during winter, providing a useful metric for monitoring annual changes in adult‐to‐juvenile ratios and other important demographic parameters. 

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Reliability of external characteristics to age Barrow’s goldeneye
DOI 10.1002/wsb.1123
Authors Tyler L. Lewis, Daniel Esler, Danica H. Hogan, W Sean Boyd, Timothy D. Bowman, Jonathan Thompson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wildlife Society Bulletin
Index ID 70214033
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB

Related Content