Backpack-mounted satellite transmitters do not affect reproductive performance in a migratory bustard

John Burnside, Joao Guilherme, Nigel Collar, Paul Dolman

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Backpack-mounted satellite transmitters (PTTs) are used extensively in the study of avian habitat use and of the movements and demography of medium- to large-bodied species, but can affect individuals’ performance and fitness. Transparent assessment of potential transmitter effects is important for both ethical accountability and confidence in, or adjustment to, life history parameter estimates. We assessed the influence of transmitters on seven reproductive parameters in Asian houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii, comparing 114 nests of 38 females carrying PTTs to 184 nests of untagged birds (non-PTT) over seven breeding seasons (2012‒2018) in Uzbekistan. There was no evidence of any influence of PTTs on: lay date (non-PTT x̅ = 91.7 Julian day ± 12.3 SD; PTT x̅ = 95.1 Julian day ± 15.7 SD); clutch size (non-PTT x̅ = 3.30 ± 0.68 SD; PTT x̅ = 3.25 ± 0.65 SD); mean egg weight at laying (non-PTT x̅ = 66.1g ± 5.4 SD; PTT x̅ = 66.4g ± 5.4 SD); nest success (non-PTT x̅ = 57.08% ± 4.3 SE; PTT x̅ = 58.24% ± 4.5 SE for nests started 2 April); egg hatchability (non-PTT x̅ = 88.3% ± 2.2 SE; PTT x̅ = 88.3% ± 2.6 SE); or chick survival to fledging from broods that had at least one surviving chick (non-PTT x̅ = 63.4% ± 4.2 SE; PTT x̅= 64.4% ± 4.7 SE). High nesting propensity (97.3% year-1 ± 1.9% SE) of tagged birds indicated minimal PTT effect on breeding probability. These findings show harness-mounted transmitters can give unbiased measures of demographic parameters of this species, and are relevant to other large-bodied, cursorial, ground-nesting birds of open habitats, particularly other bustards.
Original languageEnglish
Article number98
JournalEuropean Journal of Wildlife Research
Early online date1 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Asian houbara
  • Chlamydotis macqueenii
  • Satellite telemetry
  • Nesting success
  • Wildlife tracking

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