Eye Colour, Aging, and Decoy Trap Bias in Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis

Marie Fast, Robert G. Clark, Rodney W. Brook, Peter L. F. Fast, Jean-Michel Devink, Steve W. Leach


Researchers routinely assume that samples of trapped or captured animals are representative of the overall population, though these assumptions are not always evaluated. We used decoy-trapped Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis) to assess the reliability of classifying females as yearlings or adults from a distance, based on documented age-related eye-colour changes, and also to evaluate the presence of sex, condition and age biases in decoy trapping. We compared eye colour of trapped females to photographs of known-age females following a published procedure while females were (1) in traps (by using spotting scopes or binoculars) and (2) in-hand. Assuming in-hand age assessments were correct, we found that adults aged from a distance were frequently misclassified as yearlings, but yearlings were never misclassified as adults. Distance between observer and female, overall observation quality, and cloud cover did not influence age assignment success. A larger proportion of males was captured than observed during a survey of the local breeding population. We also found that decoy-trapped females had lower body mass and were more likely to be yearlings compared to pass- and jump-shot females from the same area. We conclude that female Lesser Scaup cannot be accurately aged from a distance using eye colour and concur with other researchers that possible sex, age and condition biases should be evaluated when using decoy traps.


Lesser Scaup; Aythya affinis; age bias; aging techniques; body condition bias; decoy trap; sex bias; trap bias; Saskatchewan; Northwest Territories

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22621/cfn.v122i1.538

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