An evaluation of the reliability of plumage characters for sexing adult Ruddy Turnstones Arenaria interpres morinella during northward passage in eastern North America


138 – 147

1 September 22

Peter J. Fullagar, R. Terry Chesser, Humphrey P. Sitters, Christopher C. Davey, Lawrence J. Niles, Sergei V. Drovetski, M. Nandadevi Cortes-Rodriguez


Peter J. Fullagar
Unit1/11 Joy Cummings Place, Belconnen, ACT 2617 Australia


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We used two datasets to investigate the reliability of plumage for sexing adult Ruddy Turnstones Arenaria interpres of the morinella subspecies during May and early June in Delaware Bay, on the Mid-Atlantic Coast of the United States (39.1202°N, 75.2479°W). We first examined 23 years of data on the capture and recapture of 1,818 individual Ruddy Turnstones to assess the consistency of observers with varying levels of expertise in assigning sex using plumage criteria. Among birds recaptured once, the sex recorded for about 10% differed between captures. This increased to about 16% among birds recaptured more than once. Significantly more birds sexed as females early in the season (during 1–12 May) were later sexed as males than vice versa. This suggests that early-season captures may include birds still in non- (or partial) breeding plumage, which can be confused with female breeding plumage. Second, we compared plumage-based and genetic assessments of sex for 66 Ruddy Turnstones captured in Delaware Bay on 29 May 2016 and 19 May 2017; these individuals were sexed in the hand by an expert on shorebird plumages. Plumage-based and molecular assessments differed in only one case. This suggests that fewer birds will be wrongly sexed on plumage if more care is taken and better instruction is given to observers (including how to distinguish non- breeding plumage from female breeding plumage). We suggest simple procedures to reduce field-sexing errors for Ruddy Turnstones based on plumage.