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Feather traits, wing morphology and abundance of southern populations of Sylvia atricapilla related to altitudinal movements


Hernandez-Tellez, Irene (2021), Feather traits, wing morphology and abundance of southern populations of Sylvia atricapilla related to altitudinal movements, Dryad, Dataset,


Moult of birds is shaped by environmental and genetic drivers whose relative contribution to the structure of feathers may differ within and between populations. In this study we compare some traits of tail feathers (growth bars, mass, rachis width and barb length) between four populations of the Eurasian blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) breeding at different elevations within the southwestern Palaearctic. We tested if these traits were related to the primary productivity of habitats (a surrogate of food availability) or were better explained as an adaptation to altitudinal movements. The distribution of primary productivity was positively related to blackcap abundance suggesting that the species tracked the most productive areas to breed. In this environmental setting, wing morphology (wing length, concavity and pointedness) suggested that lowland blackcaps were sedentary while blackcaps from highland areas were involved in altitudinal movements. The feathers of blackcaps inhabiting the highlands showed wider growth bars and rachis than those of the most productive lowland areas, but did not differ in feather mass and barb length. Fast feather growth has been related to time constraints to moult and wider rachis to improve flight efficiency in migratory birds. Our results therefore suggest that differences in feather characteristics between southern populations of the Eurasian blackcap are better interpreted as an adaptive response to altitudinal migration than as a consequence of regional food availability.


The dataset was collected during a study in the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb, covering different elevation ranges. It was processed through a series of generalised linear models to produce a MS accepted for publication in the Journal of Avian Biology.

Usage Notes

The readme file contains an explanation of each of the variables in the dataset. Two files are attached, one with the feather measurements and one with the bird counts. There are no missing values in the database. Information on how the measurements were made can be found in the associated manuscript mentioned above. For any further information please contact the author at