Moult in birds of prey: a review of current knowledge and future challenges for research
Published: Volume 65.2, July 2018. Pages 183-213.
Moult is one of three major events in the annual cycle of birds. However, in contrast to breeding and migration, relatively few studies have been carried out on this topic. This is particularly the case with the large group of birds of prey and is partly a consequence of a general lack of appreciation of the relevance of moult within the life cycle of species. This factor is exacerbated by the difficulty in obtaining large enough sample sizes in this group, since some species are scarce and birds of prey are almost always difficult to trap. Nevertheless, moult is an energy-demanding process that takes longer than the breeding cycle and, contrary to the latter, it occurs every year. We stress the importance of the annual moult process for providing a “fixed image” of an individual´s biology and underline its utility in furthering knowledge of the life history of each species. In this review we first outline the basic definitions necessary for understanding the moult process, and discuss current information on the moult sequence of European birds of prey, as part of a comprehensive review of the mechanisms of the moult in each group. Secondly, we summarise the main methods used to study, analyse and understand the moult, and indicate how to use these to obtain relevant information. Thirdly, we explain the importance of the moult in the life cycle of birds of prey, and how we can use this information to advance our understanding of the ecology of each species. Finally, we include a view of possible strategies that may be used to improve future research, thanks to advances in knowledge of the moult process.