Radio telemetry has been an important research tool in waterfowl studies for >20 years, yet little effort has been made to evaluate potential effects of transmitters on the birds that carry them. As part of a 4-year mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) study in the prairie pothole region of North Dakota and Minnesota, we compared radio-marked and unmarked female mallards in terms of percent time observed feeding, resting, and preening; nest initiation date; and clutch size and egg volume. Radio-marked females carried a 23-g back-mounted transmitter attached with a 2-loop harness (Dwyer 1972). On average, radio-marked females tended to feed less, rest and preen more, initiate nests later, and lay smaller clutches and eggs than unmarked females. Thus, behavioral and reproductive data from ducks marked with back-mounted harness-attached transmitters may be biased. We recommend that new designs of radio packages be field tested and caution that effects may be masked under extreme environmental conditions.
Additional publication details
Effects of harness transmitters on behavior and reproduction of wild mallards