Radiotelemetry is an essential tool in the study of free-ranging bird populations, and a variety of transmitter-attachment methods have been developed. A promising new method is abdominal implantation of a transmitter with a percutaneous antenna. Researchers using this technique should be concerned about and aware of mortality during surgery and during the immediate postrelease period (the 14-day period following surgery). Of 307 radio-implant surgeries performed between 1995 and 1997 in harlequin ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus), 7 (2.3%) deaths were documented during surgery or anesthetic recovery. Of 295 birds released with implanted radios, 10 (3.4%) died during the immediate postrelease period. Modifications to anesthetic procedures used in the 204 surgeries performed in 1996 and 1997 reduced mortality to 1.5% during surgery and 1.5% during the immediate postrelease period. Anesthetic modifications included intubation of all birds, placement of birds on an elevated platform that allowed the head to rest at a level lower than the body during surgery, placement of a heated water blanket under the birds during surgery, monitoring of body temperature, and use of electrocardiogram and Doppler ultrasound to monitor heart rates and arrhythmias. Low levels of mortality associated with abdominal implantation of radio transmitters may be unavoidable, but mortality can be minimized with adjustments to anesthetic technique. Copyright 1999 by American Association of Zoo Veterinarians.
Additional publication details
Surgical and immediate postrelease mortality of harlequin ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus) implanted with abdominal radio transmitters with percutaneous antennae