Generalized feather abnormalities are rarely documented in free-living birds. Pinching off syndrome (POS) is a feather abnormality in which all remiges and retrices become malformed and are lost during the nestling stage, rendering the bird unable to fly. To determine the frequency of occurrence and geographic distribution of this syndrome in white-tailed sea eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) in Europe, we sent questionnaires to ornithologists in 19 countries within the European range of this species. We also searched for reported cases of sea eagles with feather abnormalities that met the criteria of POS. Overall, 32 nestlings or fledglings with POS were identified between 1975 and 2006. The geographic distribution of cases was primarily restricted to 4 European countries: Germany (17 cases), Poland (11 cases), the Czech Republic (3 cases), and Great Britain (1 case). Eleven eagles from Germany and 2 eagles from the Czech Republic were examined clinically. In 15 birds in which sex was determined, 8 were female and 7 were male. From 2000 to 2005, the 5-year incidence of POS in white-tailed sea eagles in Germany was 3.5 cases per 1000 birds. Although the etiology of this syndrome in wild sea eagles is unknown, our results support a possible genetic cause.
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Vol. 21 • No. 2