Effects of radio transmitters on the behavior of Red-headed Woodpeckers


Previous studies have revealed that radio-transmitters may affect bird behaviors, including feeding rates, foraging behavior, vigilance, and preening behavior. In addition, depending on the method of attachment, transmitters can potentially affect the ability of cavity-nesting birds to use cavities. Our objective was to evaluate effects of transmitters on the behavior of and use of cavities by Red-headed Woodpeckers (Melanerpes erythrocephalus). Using backpack harnesses, we attached 2.1-g transmitter packages that averaged 3.1% of body weight (range = 2.5-3.6%) to Red-headed Woodpeckers. We observed both radio-tagged (N = 23) and nonradio-tagged (N = 28) woodpeckers and determined the percentage of time spent engaged in each of five behaviors: flight, foraging, perching, preening, and territorial behavior. We found no difference between the two groups in the percentage of time engaged in each behavior. In addition, we found that transmitters had no apparent effect on use of cavities for roosting by radio-tagged woodpeckers (N = 25). We conclude that backpack transmitters weighing less than 3.6% of body weight had no impact on either their behavior or their ability to use cavities.

  • Citation: Vukovich, Mark; Kilgo, John C. 2009. Effects of radio transmitters on the behavior of Red-headed Woodpeckers. J. Field Ornithol. 80(3):308-313.
  • Posted Date: June 18, 2010
  • Modified Date: June 24, 2020
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