Sexing oystercatchers in the field is difficult because males and females have identical plumage and are similar in size. Although Black Oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) are sexually dimorphic, using morphology to determine sex requires either capturing both pair members for comparison or using discriminant analyses to assign sex probabilistically based on morphometric traits. All adult Black Oystercatchers have bright yellow eyes, but some of them have dark specks, or eye flecks, in their irides. We hypothesized that this easily observable trait was sex-linked and could be used as a novel diagnostic tool for identifying sex. To test this, we compared data for oystercatchers from genetic molecular markers (CHD-W/CHD-Z and HINT-W/HINT-Z), morphometric analyses, and eye-fleck category (full eye flecks, slight eye flecks, and no eye flecks). Compared to molecular markers, we found that discriminant analyses based on morphological characteristics yielded variable results that were confounded by geographical differences in morphology. However, we found that eye flecks were sex-linked. Using an eye-fleck model where all females have full eye flecks and males have either slight eye flecks or no eye flecks, we correctly assigned the sex of 117 of 125 (94%) oystercatchers. Using discriminant analysis based on morphological characteristics, we correctly assigned the sex of 105 of 119 (88%) birds. Using the eye-fleck technique for sexing Black Oystercatchers may be preferable for some investigators because it is as accurate as discriminant analysis based on morphology and does not require capturing the birds. ??2008 Association of Field Ornithologists.
Additional publication details
Secrets in the eyes of Black Oystercatchers: A new sexing technique