We predicted sex of 140 Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) nestlings out of 34 nests at our Barrow, Alaska, study area to develop a technique for sexing these owls in the field. We primarily sexed young, flightless owls (38–44 d old) by quantifying plumage markings on the remiges and tail, predicting sex, and collecting blood samples to test our field predictions using molecular sexing techniques. We categorized and quantified three different plumage markings: two types of bars (defined as markings that touch the rachis) and spots (defined as markings that do not touch the rachis). We predicted sex in the field assuming that males had more spots than bars and females more bars than spots on the remiges and rectrices. Molecular data indicated that we correctly sexed 100% of the nestlings. We modeled the data using random forests and classification trees. Both models indicated that the number and type of markings on the secondary feathers were the most important in classifying nestling sex. The statistical models verified our initial qualitative prediction that males have more spots than bars and females more bars than spots on flight feathers P6–P10 for both wings and tail feathers T1 and T2. This study provides researchers with an easily replicable and highly accurate method for sexing young Snowy Owls in the field, which should aid further studies of sex-ratios and sex-related variation in behavior and growth of this circumpolar owl species.
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Vol. 45 • No. 4