Sex determination of three raptor species using morphology and molecular techniques

Sarah Pitzer, Joshua Hull, Holly B Ernest, Angus C. Hull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Accurate identification of sex is important for many raptor studies, but may be difficult to determine in the field for some species. Because of size differences between males and females, morphological measurements have often been used to sex raptors. However, few investigators have examined the accuracy of using measurements of individuals made at one location to sex individuals of the same species at another location. Our objective was to develop more accurate region-specific methods for determining the sex of Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), Red-shouldered Hawks (B. lineatus), and Cooper's Hawks (Accipiter cooperii) migrating through and wintering in California. We determined sex using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based genetic test and grouped individuals based on sex, age, and geographic area. We did not combine groups due to differences in measurements between age classes and geographic areas. We then compared a suite of morphological measurements between males and females of each combination, and developed both a discriminant function and a flowchart to determine the sex of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered hawks in the field. The flowcharts were more accurate than the functions for both species. We also confirmed the accuracy of the current flowchart used to determine the sex of Cooper's Hawks migrating along the California coast. These region-specific methods for Red-tailed and Cooper's hawks were generally more accurate than published methods, possibly indicating different populations of these species and highlighting the importance of validating sexing methods when using them in different locations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-79
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Field Ornithology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Cooper's Hawk
  • Discriminant function analysis
  • Polymerase chain reaction
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Red-tailed Hawk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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