Murres (thick-billed [Uria lomvia] and common [U. aalge]) are legally hunted along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Razorbills (Alca torda) are also incidentally taken. Only irregular estimates of the total murre harvest are available, so a tool to derive estimates of age- and species-specific harvest is required to effectively monitor the hunt and manage a sustainable harvest. We collected 293 murre and razorbill wings from hunters between 1999–2004, with the goal of identifying wing characteristics that could be used to discriminate age and species. We found that murres and razorbills could be reliably aged (first-yr vs. older) on the basis of molt limits of greater wing coverts. Using a discriminant function (DF) incorporating length of the first primary and second secondary feather, we classified 95–96% of common murres and 99–100% of thick-billed murres correctly to species. First-year thick-billed and common murres also differed in number of pale secondary coverts (median = 12 and 3, respectively), providing another species-specific trait. We developed a key to age and assign species based on these results. We assessed applicability and accuracy of the wing-key with novice observers, who differentiated between murre and razorbill wings using feather-pattern coloration with high accuracy (95 ± 9%) and were able to differentiate between the 2 murres species using 3 techniques: visual assessment of wing shape (83 ± 14% accuracy), the DF (94 ± 6%), and number of worn secondary coverts for first-year birds only (83 ± 5%). Experience increased success rates of aging and species classification using wing shape and number of worn secondary coverts but not using the DF. Despite differences in measurement accuracy and repeatability among observers, the DF proved to be robust. Our results will facilitate implementation of a species composition survey for the murre hunt and will improve identification rates of carcasses found during beached bird surveys in the Northwest Atlantic, aiding in monitoring of alcid populations vulnerable to anthropogenic activities.
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