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Nestling characteristics and identification of the lesser spotted eagle Aquila pomarina, greater spotted eagle A. clanga, and their hybrids



Nestling characteristics and identification of the lesser spotted eagle Aquila pomarina, greater spotted eagle A. clanga, and their hybrids



Journal of Ornithology 145(3): 256-263



The lesser spotted eagle Aquila pomarina and the greater spotted eagle A. clanga are closely related endangered raptors whose taxonomic status, field identification, and ultimately conservation, have been complicated due to morphological similarity. However, the partial overlap in morphological features may also involve hybrids, which are known to exist, but which have so far been poorly described. This study investigated spotted eagle nestlings in Estonia, pre-identifying them according to mitochondrial DNA, nape patch and the appearance of their parents. Relative size of bill and toes (corrected for nestling growth) enabled us to separate the smaller A. pomarina, but hybrids were as large as A. clanga. All three groups had distinct plumages with hybrids being intermediate; the separation was clearest using both size and plumage indices. In all, 164 of 168 birds were correctly identified using a three-step procedure, separating: (1) A. clanga, having no nape patch; (2) 9 of 13 hybrids according to plumage index; and (3) the remaining hybrids by their large size (at least two features over the mean+2 SD values of A. pomarina). Knowing the sex helped to interpret size, but not plumage, characteristics, and its overall value for assisting identification was not high. The results support the view that spotted eagles with intermediate characters are usually hybrids which can be recognised by their appearance.

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Accession: 012346243

Download citation: RISBibTeXText

DOI: 10.1007/s10336-004-0028-7


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