Monitoring feeding behaviour of brent geese Branta bernicla using position-sensitive radio transmitters

Mark Hassall, Simon J. Lane, Martin Stock, Steve M. Percival, Barbara Puhl

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Though the occurrence of night time feeding has been demonstrated in numerous species of wildfowl, accurately quantifying this behaviour visually is inherently difficult and so alternative techniques are required. During the course of two distinct projects on the ecology of brent geese Branta bernicla in England (Studies Aand B) and another in Germany (Study C) we used position-sensitive radio transmitters, attached to thin leather neck collars, to monitor feeding behaviour remotely. In this paper, we present a collective account of the method. Transmitter units emitted pulses at two different intervals depending on the orientation of a built-in tilt switch; generally shorter intervals (ca 1.1 seconds) when a bird lowered its neck to feed and longer intervals (ca 1.4 seconds) when in upright positions, though in some units this was reversed. Day-time observations of each radio-marked goose were required to produce predictive equations which described the proportion of time feeding in terms of mean pulse interval (Study B), number of long intervals between pulses (Study C) or the proportion of time in which pulses were received at short (or in some cases long) intervals (Study A). Coefficients of determination ranged within0.13-0.95. These equations could be used to interpret data that was received and stored at regular intervals (30 or 60 seconds) during night time by a data logging system. Each study also assessed whether the collars affected the behaviour of the geese. No significant behavioural differences were observed for free-ranging birds wearing collars compared to nearby birds without. This technique is a realistic option for ecological studies of wildfowl requiring construction of feeding time budgets through the night as well as the day.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-86
Number of pages10
JournalWildlife Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2001

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