Behavioral and reproductive effects of bird-borne data logger attachment on Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) on three temporal scales

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Although the use of bird-borne data loggers has become widespread in avian field research, the effects of capture and transmitter attachment on behavior and demographic rates are not often measured. Tag- and capture-induced effects on individual behavior, survival and reproduction may limit extrapolation of transmitter data to wider populations. However, measuring individual responses to capture and tagging is a necessary step in developing research techniques that minimize negative effects. We measured the short-term behavioral effects of handling and GPS transmitter attachment on Brown Pelicans under both captive and field conditions, and followed tagged individuals through a full breeding season to assess whether capture and transmitter attachment increased rates of nest abandonment or breeding failure. We observed slight increases in preening among tagged individuals 0–2 h after capture relative to controls that had not been captured or tagged, with a corresponding reduction in time spent resting. One to three days post-capture, nesting behavior of tagged pelicans resembled that of neighbors that had not been captured or tagged. Eighty-eight percent of tagged breeders remained at the same nest location for more than 48 h after capture, attending nests and chicks for an average of 49 days, and 51% were assumed to successfully fledge young. Breeding success was driven primarily by variation in location; however, sex and handling time also influenced the probability of successful breeding in tagged pelicans, suggesting that individual characteristics and the capture process itself can confound the effects of capture and transmitter attachment. We conclude that pelicans fitted with GPS transmitters exhibit comparable behaviors to untagged individuals within a day of capture and that GPS tracking is a viable technique for studying behavior and demography in this species. We also identify measures to minimize post-capture nest abandonment rates in tracking studies, including minimizing handling time and covering nests during processing.




Lamb, J. S., Satgé, Y. G., Fiorello, C. V., & Jodice, P. G. R. (2017). Behavioral and reproductive effects of bird-borne data logger attachment on Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) on three temporal scales. Journal of Ornithology, 158(2), 617–627.

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