eWestern Birds

The Quarterly Journal of Western Field Ornithologists

Vol. 53, No. 3
August 2022
Western Field Ornithologists

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Molt Strategies by Age and Subspecies in the Willow Flycatcher
Peter Pyle and Blaine H. Carnes

ABSTRACT: We clarify the molt strategies of the Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii) by subspecies through the examination of 455 museum specimens. Most and typically all juvenile primary coverts are retained during the preformative molt in fall and winter, allowing yearlings to be distinguished from older birds from their first spring through their second fall. In addition to replacing the body feathers and some to (usually) all secondary coverts and tertials, the preformative molt can include no other remiges or rectrices (46% of specimens), all remiges and rectrices (33%), or some remiges in an “eccentric” sequence (21%). During the prealternate molt, replacement of upper wing coverts and tertials is much less extensive than in the preformative molt, varying from replacement of no feathers in 27% of specimens to replacing more than half of the median and greater coverts and all three tertials in other specimens. Both the preformative and the first prealternate molts are significantly more extensive in eastern E. t. traillii than in the three western subspecies (brewsteri, adastus, and extimus). The definitive prealternate molt is also significantly more extensive than the first prealternate molt in the western subspecies but not in traillii. These differences between traillii and the other subspecies may result from longer migration distances, hence more solar exposure on an annual basis, and different molt-strategy dynamics between eastern and western North American passerines, perhaps relating to preferences for moister habitats. Further investigation is needed on the timing of molts on the winter grounds and the extent of body-feather replacement during the prealternate molt.

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