Great tits do not compensate over time for a radio-tag-induced reduction in escape-flight performance

Barbara M. Tomotani (Corresponding author), Florian T. Muijres, Bronwyn Johnston, Henk P. van der Jeugd, Marc Naguib

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Abstract

The use of biologging and tracking devices is widespread in avian behavioral and ecological studies. Carrying these devices rarely has major behavioral or fitness effects in the wild, yet it may still impact animals in more subtle ways, such as during high power demanding escape maneuvers. Here, we tested whether or not great tits (Parus major) carrying a backpack radio-tag changed their body mass or flight behavior over time to compensate for the detrimental effect of carrying a tag. We tested 18 great tits, randomly assigned to a control (untagged) or one of two different types of a radio-tag as used in previous studies in the wild (0.9 g or 1.2 g; ~5% or ~6–7% of body mass, respectively), and determined their upward escape-flight performance 1, 7, 14, and 28 days after tagging. In between experiments, birds were housed in large free-flight aviaries. For each escape-flight, we used high-speed 3D videography to determine flight paths, escape-flight speed, wingbeat frequency, and actuator disk loading (ratio between the bird weight and aerodynamic thrust production capacity). Tagged birds flew upward with lower escape-flight speeds, caused by an increased actuator disk loading. During the 28-day period, all groups slightly increased their body mass and their in-flight wingbeat frequency. In addition, during this period, all groups of birds increased their escape-flight speed, but tagged birds did so at a lower rate than untagged birds. This suggests that birds may increase their escape-flight performance through skill learning; however, tagged birds still remained slower than controls. Our findings suggest that tagging a songbird can have a prolonged effect on the performance of rapid flight maneuvers. Given the absence of tag effects on reproduction and survival in most songbird radio-tagging studies, tagged birds in the wild might adjust their risk-taking behavior to avoid performing rapid flight maneuvers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16600-16617
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume11
Issue number23
Early online date2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • actuator disk model
  • bird flight maneuverability
  • experiment
  • Parus major
  • predation
  • radio-tag
  • national
  • Plan_S-Compliant-OA

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