A trail of feathers led a team of Purdue University scientists to confirm that eagles from central Asia are quite possibly the most faithful of birds.
An Eastern imperial eagle chick scolds Todd Katzner, conservation director with the National Aviary, as he collects feathers from the birds nest. Katzner is working with geneticists at Purdue University to use DNA from feathers to help determine the conservation status of this rare central Asian eagle. (Photo courtesy of Todd Katzner)
By performing DNA analysis on the feathers left behind at nesting sites, the researchers were able to identify individual Eastern imperial eagles in a nature reserve in Kazakhstan. Their analysis showed that not one adult strayed from its mate - a degree of fidelity highly unusual among birds, the vast majority of which mate with and raise offspring from multiple partners.
Not only is this study the first to confirm monogamy in eagles, more importantly, it also is the first to rely on feathers collected "noninvasively," or without trapping and handling, to provide a source of DNA to determine relationships among individuals and determine various population parameters.
Jennifer Cutraro | EurekAlert!
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