Sexing Bay-capped Wren-Spinetails

January 1, 2009 by Gregory Gough

In some kinds of birds the males and females look pretty much the same. One example is the tropical ovenbirds, a large family consisting of many species, featuring such hobbit-like genera as the: earthcreepers, barbtails, firewood-gatherers, brushrunners, and plushcrowns.

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One member of this family is the bay-capped wren-spinetail. It lives in coastal marshes in Argentina. Although the males and females resemble each other greatly, scientists wondered if there were subtle differences.

The first step was to actually identify which were males and females among museum collections. For this, scientists used molecular techniques to accurately sex 65 wren-spinetails.

Next, they took 10 measurements. They found that the best markers that differentiate the males were a stouter bill and longer rufous cap and wings.

However, the measurements would not be able to identify all the birds correctly to sex. For males, 71 percent could be correctly identified, and for females, 89 percent.

So yes, male and female bay-capped wren-spinetail do look different, subtly, and maybe other members of the ovenbird family do as well.

This article summarizes the information in this scientific paper:

Cardoni, D. A., Maldonado, Jesús E., Isacch, J. P. and Greenberg, Russell S. 2009. Subtle Sexual Dimorphism in the Bay-Capped Wren-Spinetail (Furnariidae) Uncovered through Molecular Sex Determination. Ornitologia Neotropical, 20: 347-355.

Download scientific paper