Sexual dimorphism in plumage and size in Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa limosa

Julia Schroeder*, Pedro M. Lourenco, Marco van der Velde, Jos C.E.W. Hooijmeijer, Christiaan Both, Theunis Piersma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
125 Downloads (Pure)


Systematic sex-related differences in size and plumage are informative of sex-specific selection pressures. Here, we present an analysis of sexual dimorphism in body size and plumage of Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa limosa from a breeding population in The Netherlands. Molecular methods were used to unambiguously assign the sex of captured birds. To quantify breeding plumage, we developed nine plumage scores. These scores describe the intensity of orange in the breast plumage, the extent of black bars on the belly, the coverage and number of breeding feathers on the back, the conspicuousness of the white eye stripe, the extent of white plumage on the head, the percentage of orange colour in the bill and the percentage of white and black spots covering the neck. Most females were structurally bigger, and had a greater body mass. Nonetheless, we found a greater overlap in bill length between the sexes than expected on the basis of literature data: biometrics alone are not sufficient to correctly discriminate between the sexes. Black-tailed Godwits are sexually dimorphic mostly with respect to the amount of white spots on the neck, females being of lighter colour than males. In addition, females showed fewer black bars and less orange on the breast, had more white in the head and fewer and a smaller extent of breeding feathers on the back. Interestingly, we found a genotypic polymorphism on the sex-related CHD1 gene on the Z chromosome, commonly used for molecular sexing in birds. Males of the less frequent genotype had significantly more white in their plumage and had fewer black bars on their breast, while in females no differences between the 6 two genotypes were found.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-37
Number of pages13
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • sexual size dimorphism
  • sexual plumage dimorphism
  • molecular sexing
  • meadowbirds
  • repeatability
  • DNA

Cite this