OLLÉ A. GOY J. & MONTRÀS-JANER T. 2023. Identification of Pallid Harrier Part I: first plumage. Key characters to distinghish the differences with Montagu’s Harrier in 1cy autumn (fresh plumage) and 2cy spring (worn plumage) www.raptoridentification.com
Author: Joan Goy
Field identification of the Golden Eagle, and the different plumages of the ssp. homeyeri
TRABALON F. & JAIS M. 2021. Field identification of the Golden Eagle, and the different plumages of the ssp. homeyeri www.raptoridentification.com
The Golden Eagle is a large eagle with long and broad wings. The nostrils are enlarged. The wing tips have finger-like feathers with each individual feather clearly visible. The rear-head and hind-neck is golden brown (more reddish-brown in homeyeri)and the wings and wing-tips have a round trailing edge (unlike other large Aquila eagles). Compared with the broad secondaries, the primaries are comparatively narrow. Birds of ssp. homeyeri are darker in the under and upper coverts of the wing. When perched, the tail does extend beyond the wing-tips.
Photo 1. Adult plumage. March. © Fran Trabalon. Even in the distance, it is possible to observe the very long wings, and how they become more narrow closer to the body. This perception is accentuated by the fairly wide outer secondaries, which also gives the primaries a narrower aspect.
JUVENILE PLUMAGE. The iris is dark brown and the head and neck are brownish, turning reddish over time. The base of the primaries have an extensive white base. Sometimes the external secundaries also have a white base (some juveniles without this white base).The upper wing coverts are uniformly dark, they will turn to a paler brown over time and create a pale panel thanks to feather wear. The rear edge of the flight feathers are serrated. The “bicolor-looking” tail is very characteristic, with a white base and a broad dark band on the margin. The rear margin of the wing has a very serrated appearance, given the uniform growth of the plumage.
Photo 2. Juvenile plumage. October. © Fran Trabalon. The general colouration is very uniform and dark, and except for a very few darker homeyeri, the inner part of the primaries, and often the base of the outer secondaries, are white, an aspect that, together with the extensively white rectrices, makes it easy to identify.
SECOND PLUMAGE. The iris is brown and dark but paler in birds from southern Europe. Overall, the appearance is similar to the first plumage but with new body feathers whose number is growing over the summer. At the end of the 2nd year, the eagles have moulted the 2-6 most inner primaries as well as a variable number of secondaries. The new primaries are more greyish and show some stripes. The new secondaries are a bit broader, shorter and darker with a grey base. The remaining juvenile secondaries are long, pointed, worn and uniformly dark, but, of course, with white bases if the individual presented them in its juvenile plumage. On the upper parts, the lesser coverts are moulted and of the tail feathers, at least central pair moulted. Tail feathers are similar to juvenile birds but with greyish margins and marbled on the upper side of the subterminal band.
Photo 3. Second plumage. October. © Joan Goy. At the end of their second year calendary, the eagles have replaced the innermost primaries and a variable number of secondaries. The appearance is similar to that of juveniles but the contrast is visible in the moulted body feathers, as well as the iris, which is still dark brown. This bird has moult the 4 innermost primaries at the right wing, one more at the left wing, and also the S1, as well some inner secondary, probably the S14, And the two central rectrices. A common moult extension in southern birds.
THIRD PLUMAGE. The iris is now of a clear brown colour or chestnut-coloured. The underparts show a more reddish plumage and the eagles have new greater coverts. The lesser coverts and the median coverts are extensively moulted.In southern Europe, often retain 1 or 2 juvenile outer primaries, and these are also occasionally molted. In the same period, it once again replaced up to the three innermost primaries, these being the third generation. The innermost 3 primaries are often already in their 3rd generation. In the secondaries there are still a few juvenile feathers left in the centre. The new secondaries normally also have a white base, although this is not always the case in homeyeri. The tail feathers have been moulted, sometimes P4 remains without moult, it will then look worn.
Photo 4. Third plumage. September. © Fran Trabalon. In the third plumage the more or less reddish parts are already visible in the lower parts, since the moulting of the coverts has already been almost completed. New secondaries still tend to keep white bases. The iris is still not fully yellow. p10 is retained as a juvenile on its right wing, an aspect that allows the bird to be dated safely. This bird still retains a few juvenile secondaries and the void on the right wing is due to it having pulled the two innermost primaries. Regarding the tail, it does not retain any juvenile feather.
FOURTH PLUMAGE. In this plumage, the iris is chestnut-coloured or brownish-yellowish. On the body and wings brownish-orange feathers appear, this is typical of adults. Nordic birds may maintain some juvenile outer primaries and juvenile secondaries until the spring of their fifth calendar year, but in southern populations often all the primaries have been moulted. The tail feathers are grey and banded. Sometimes R6 still has some white, but in most southern populations, the new rectrices are largely grey and barred. In northern Europe birds still have much white.
Photo 5. Fourth plumage. March. © Fran Trabalon. In this age and ahead, in many birds it can be very difficult to know the exact age, because generally all the remiges are moulted. Juvenile secondaries are visible, and the outermost primaries have recently been moulted. Also, white bases are visible in a few secondaries.
SUBADULT PLUMAGE (5-10 YEARS OLD). Subadults have a pale iris. They don’t show any juvenile remiges. They usually show two or three fairly symmetric spots of moult in the primaries. There can be rests of irregular white patches in the wings and tail. This is more extensive in northern birds.
Photo 6. Subadult, May. © Fran Trabalon. Subadult birds have moulted all the remiges and have yellowish irises, which is why they can practically not be separated from the adult birds. Sometimes they can be identified at this age thanks to the quite symmetrical moult that they still have in the primaries, as it is in this case. There is a juvenile secondary at the base of the left wing. It is distinguished by being longer and translucent.
ADULT PLUMAGE. Adults have a pale or yellow iris, depending on age. The top of the head and breast are brown and adults have a golden nape. The body feathers are between dark brown and reddish brown, the grey flight feathers are darkly frayed with a broad dark fringe which shows a weak pale terminal band. Depending on the light, a dark band formed by the greater upper coverts is visible. The rectrices are more frayed from the base with a broad dark margin which forms an often faintly visible terminal band. A white base of the tail feathers is rare but more common in northern birds. At a distance, birds appear dark, especially birds from central and southern Europe. The upper wing coverts show a pale diagonal patch in the upper coverts.
Photo 7. Adult. September. © Fran Trabalon. The iris is yellowish, with golden feathers on the nape. The posterior part of the remiges forms a broad, dark band, and sometimes a subtle dark band is also seen, although more diffuse in the great undercovers.
Bautista, J. 2017. Manual de identificación en el campo del Águila Real Mediterránea (Aquila chysaetos homeyeri). https://rsanchezmateos.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/manual-de-identificacic3b3n-en-el-campo-del-c3a1guila-real-mediterrc3a1nea-1.pdf
Forsman, D. 1999. The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East. T.& A.D. Poyser. London.
Nebel, C., Gamauf, A., Haring, E., Segelbacher, G., Viller, A. & Zachos, F. 2015. Mitochondrial DNA analysis reveals Holarctic homogeneity and a distinct Mediterranean lineage in the Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 116(2): 328–340.
Ollé A. & Trabalón F. 2019. Aves Rapaces de Europa. Omega. Barcelona.
Orta, J. 1994. Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos. In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. & Sargatal, J. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol 2. New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Pp. 197-198. Lynx Edicions. Barcelona.
Soutullo, A., Urios, V. & Ferrer, M. 2006. How far away in an hour? – daily movements of juvenile Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) tracked with satellite telemetry. Journal of Ornithology 147: 69–72.
Watson, I. 1992. Status of the Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos in Europe. Bird Conservation International 2: 175-183.
Watson, J. 1997. The Golden Eagle. Poyser. London.
Identification of juvenile Lesser Kestrel: keys to differentiate from juvenile Common Kestrel
OLLÉ A. MONTRÀS-JANER T. & GOY J. 2020. Identification of juvenile Lesser Kestrel: keys to differentiate from juvenile Common Kestrel. www.raptoridentification.comIdentification-Juv-Lesser-Kestrel
Identification of second and third plumage in Short-toed Snake Eagle
OLLÉ A. & MONTRÀS-JANER T. 2020. Identification of second and third plumages in Short-toed Snake Eagle. www.raptoridentification.com
Short-toed Snake Eagle displays four plumages that can be identified in field, namely juvenile, 2nd, 3rd and adult plumage. Juveniles (1cy) and adults (+ 4cy) are the easiest to recognize. Intermediate plumages from immature birds are somehow trickier. However, with good photos and some practice they are relatively easy to age too.
Immature birds are in general brighter than adults. Moreover, an irregular margin along the wing’s edge reveals two different generation of feathers and two (or even three) moult fronts, differing from the juvenile plumages (which have none). The extension of the synchronic moult in both wings determines the age.
JUVENILE. This is the plumage the bird acquires at the nest, and the plumage the bird will keep until the end of the winter or beginning of the spring (i.e. in its 2cy). At that stage, the moult has not started yet. Thus, there is only one generation of feathers, no moult fronts and the margin along the wind’s edge is uniform. Juvenile birds have a pale brown or cinnamon coloured hood, upper part of the chest and, up to a higher or lower degree, lesser and median underwing coverts. The flight feathers (primaries and secondaries) on this plumage are very different from the ones on an adult plumage, displaying only a subtle dark fringe along the margin of the wing with up to two (at the most) very thin fringes (often partially or totally missing). The tail shows much thinner stripes in juveniles than in adult birds.
Immature birds are those with the so-called 2nd and 3rd plumages, between 2cy spring and 4cy summer. They are non-breeders and the plumage differs from that on adult birds as follows. Immatures are very bright, even in long distance, with no uniform pale brown or cinnamon hood nor large dotted area across the underwing covers. The fringe along the wig’s margin is not uniform but very irregular. However, and opposite to adult birds, the moult is synchronic in both wings. Many birds in their 1cy and even 2cy summer remain in Africa. A few of them fly to Europe, although they tend to remain within the Mediterranean region. Accordingly, individuals marked with transmitters have shown many of them only reaching to North Africa and not crossing into Europe. These individuals often occupy flat plains with high foraging resources (differing from the mosaic habitats occupied by the European breeders), wandering around with no fidelity nor roots for any special site. Immatures in their 3rd plumage (3cy or 2nd summer) are still non-breeders. Nonetheless, some of these birds, especially those in their 4cy, might join the breeding birds and perhaps even support them in some way before finding a territory of their own.
SECOND PLUMAGE. This is the plumage juvenile birds acquire when they start moulting. The first feather to moult is the innermost primary (p1). The moult usually starts sometime during the first couple of weeks of April, although it has also been registered starting from end of March and as far as beginning of May. At this age, the spring migration starts later than for adults, probably due to that these birds have no rush to reach anywhere in Europe and occupy a territory. In that sense, some birds start moulting in Africa, suspend their moult during migration, and restart again once they reach Europe, showing one or even 2 moulted primaries (p1/p2). Other birds though, migrate a bit earlier and so they have no moulted feathers yet during their journey. Once they reach Europe, the moult starts. The moult progresses orderly towards the outer parts of the wings. In October 2cy, four to six inner primaries (p1-4/6) are already moulted. At this point, the autumn migration starts and the birds suspend the moult. In this plumage, very few secondaries are moulted. At the most, the most external (s1-2), the central (s5), and the most inner (tertiaries) feathers which usually, will not be moulted until at least the two or three innermost primaries are moulted. The tail feathers normally moult completely, starting at the centre of the tail (r1).
THIRD PLUMAGE. During the 2cy winter, from November to February, most birds winter in Africa. The conditions there are optimal to keep with the on-going moult of the remiges. Now is mostly the turn of the secondaries so that, in the 3cy spring almost all of them will be new. All tail feathers will moult to the ‘second generation adult type’, with a much wider subterminal fringe. As for the primaries, birds can moult either none of them or up to two of them, carrying on where the moult was suspended in October 2cy. In this way, in spring 3cy all these birds reach Europe with a moult that varies extremely from individual to individual. In general, they are very bright birds and the ageing would be reflected in the extension of their moult, with two moult fronts (still synchronic) on the inner and outermost primaries. This age is difficult to assess. If we can identify that the bird has none (or very few) juvenile secondaries in spring, that would separate this from a 2nd plumage individual. In spring, one of the outermost primaries is usually moulting (p8-9 or 10). At the same time, another moult front appears in the innermost primaries (p1-2). The moult will progress during the 3cy. In October 3cy, all individuals will have no juvenile feathers, the inner and outermost primaries completely new (reaching around the p3 or 4) and the central primaries somehow worn out.
FIRST ADULT PLUMAGE or SUBADULT. This is the previous to the adult plumage. There is no remaining juvenile feather amongst the remiges. The moult fronts are still symmetric, up to a large extend. Some individuals can achieve this plumage already during summer 3cy while others will reach there as late as in spring 4cy. All and all, from the 4cy summer is very difficult if not impossible to age birds in field. However, there are some characteristics that may remain until the 5cy such as a bright throat and a relative simultaneity of the moult fronts.
How to sex Eurasian Hobby in juvenile and transitional plumage
OLLÉ A. & MONTRÀS-JANER T. 2020. How to sex Eurasian Hobby in juvenile and transitional plumage. www.raptoridentification.com
Adult birds are relatively easy to sex if we can properly see the undertail coverts, the vent and the trousers, area known as the ‘red patch’. In females, the red patch is stripy, with a variable number of dark stripes. In males, the red patch is uniformly red, often with some little fade stripes not obvious in distance. Nevertheless, some males can be just as stripy as the females. Therefore, while a non-stripy red patch is definitely identifying males, the opposite may not always be true and we recommend to always look at the overall structure of the bird. Some authors have mentioned that old females can have ‘only a few stripes’, just like males do. Yet, we have not been able to confirm that (using a sample of birds aged till 5cy).
Photo 1: adult Eurasian Hobbies. Male on top. Notice the uniform red on the male and the numerous dark stripes on the female red patch. ©Jordi Bermejo.
Photo 2: female (left) and male (right). Breeding birds. Dark stripes across female’s red patch is far more obvious than for the male’s. ©Gabriel de Jesús.
Photo 3: breeding male with obvious dark stripes across the red patch, showing that there is overalp between individuals and therefore, this is not a characteristic that can be considered alone to sex individuals, contrary to what is usually published. ©Gabriel de Jesús.
1cy birds do not have red coloured patch, but cream coloured. As in adult birds, males usually have no stripes across the undertail coverts and trousers, but there is overlap. On the other hand, females are usually more obviously stripy, especially on the trousers, with wider stripes.
Juveniles go through a partial moult on their wintering grounds (during their first winter) that affects body and facial feathers (no flight feathers). But there is a lot of variation amongst individuals up to the point that, when these birds reach Europe in April, some have extensive red patches while others, barely have any red at all. In general, red patches in transitional birds are never as intensive (nor extensive) as in adult birds. Apparently, males seem to moult a larger amount of red feathers tan females.
Transitional females also have dark stripes across the red patch, but far less obvious than in adult birds and in some case, stripes may be even missing. As in adults, transitional males may also have stripy-dark red patches. In this case, the stripes are much thinner and scattered than in females. However, overlap amongst individuals may occur and then, we need to weight in other traits such as the overall structure of the bird (i.e. smaller bodies and proportional bigger head in males).
Photo 4: 1cy juvenile female. Red patch with very clear wide and dark stripes. ©Fran Trabalon.
Photo 5: 1cy juvenile male. Much thinner dark stripes, in this case missing on the undertail coverts. ©Fran Trabalon.
Photo 6: 2cy female, spring. Obvious stripes across the few red moulted feathers and wider dark stripes across the juvenile undertail coverts. ©Alex Ollé.
Photo 7: 2cy male, spring. Proportional larger head and slender body. Notice thinner body stripes. ©Fran Trabalon.
Photo 8: 2cy female, spring. Juvenile trait across the red patch, with distinct dark stripes. Notice, wide body stripes. ©Alex Ollé.
Photo 9: 2cy male, spring. Large number of red feathers have been moulted. Notice the less intense red tone and the lackof dark stripes. Overall smaller body and proportional larger head. ©Alex Ollé.
Photo 10: 2cy, spring. This bird is very difficult to sex. It hardly moulted in the wintering grounds and the juvenile feathers are very worn. ©Alex Ollé.