Streaks in pre-transitional boundary layers are analysed and their properties are extracted from direct numerical simulation data. Streaks that induce breakdown to turbulence via secondary instability are shown to differ from the remainder of the population in various attributes. Conditionally averaged flow fields establish that they are situated farther away from the wall, and have a larger cross-sectional area and higher peak amplitude. The analysis also shows that the momentum thickness acts as a similarity parameter for the properties of the streaks. Probability density functions of the streak amplitude, area, and shear along the streaks, collapse among the various pressure gradients when plotted as a function of the momentum thickness. A prediction scheme for laminar–turbulent transition based on artificial neural networks is presented, which can identify the streaks that will eventually induce the formation of turbulent spots. In comparison to linear stability theory, the approach achieves a higher prediction accuracy at considerably lower computational cost.