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Testing an attachment method for solar-powered tracking devices on a long-distance migrating shorebird
Chan, Y.-C; Brugge, M.; Tibbitts, T.L.; Dekinga, A.; Porter, R.; Klaassen, R.H.G.; Piersma, T. (2016). Testing an attachment method for solar-powered tracking devices on a long-distance migrating shorebird. J. Ornithol. 157: 277–287. dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10336-015-1276-4
In: Journal of Ornithology. Springer: Berlin. ISSN 2193-7192, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Keyword
    Calidris canutus (Linnaeus, 1758) [WoRMS]
Author keywords
    Calidris canutus;? Harness design; Satellite; transmitter; Tag retention;? Telemetry

Authors  Top 
  • Chan, Y.-C, more
  • Brugge, M.
  • Tibbitts, T.L.
  • Dekinga, A., more
  • Porter, R.
  • Klaassen, R.H.G.
  • Piersma, T., more

Abstract
    Small solar-powered satellite transmitters andGPS data loggers enable continuous, multi-year, and globaltracking of birds. What is lacking, however, are reliablemethods to attach these tracking devices to small migratorybirds so that (1) flight performance is not impacted and (2)tags are retained during periods of substantial mass changeassociated with long-distance migration. We developed afull-body harness to attach tags to Red Knots (Calidriscanutus), a medium-sized shorebird (average mass 124 g)that undertakes long-distance migrations. First, wedeployed dummy tags on captive birds and monitored themover a complete migratory fattening cycle (February–July2013) during which time they gained and lost 31–110 gand underwent a pre-alternate moult of body feathers.Using each individual’s previous year fattening and moultdata in captivity as controls, we compared individual massand moult differences between years between the taggedand reference groups, and concluded that the attachmentdid not impact mass and moult cycles. However, somebirds shed feathers under the tags and under the polyesterharness line commonly used in avian harnesses. Feathershedding was alleviated by switching to smoothed-bottomtags and monofilament harness lines. To field-trial thisdesign, we deployed 5-g satellite transmitters on ten RedKnots released on 3 October 2013 in the Dutch WaddenSea. Bird movements and tag performance appeared normal.However, nine tags stopped transmitting 11–170 dayspost-release which was earlier than expected. We attributethis to bird mortality rather than failure of the attachmentsor transmitters and suggest that the extra weight and dragcaused by the tag and its feather-blocking shield increasedthe chance of depredation by the locally common PeregrineFalcons (Falco peregrinus). Our results demonstrate thatspecies- and place-specific contexts can strongly determinetagging success. While captive trials are an important firststep in developing an attachment method, field trials areessential to fully assess attachment designs.

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