Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 155, Issue 1, pp 37–44 | Cite as

Effects of geolocators on reproductive performance and annual return rates of a migratory songbird

  • Jesús GómezEmail author
  • Chantel I. Michelson
  • David W. Bradley
  • D. Ryan Norris
  • Lisha L. Berzins
  • Russell D. Dawson
  • Robert G. Clark
Original Article


Our understanding of the annual life-cycle movements of small migratory birds has advanced rapidly with the advent of light-weight geographical positioning devices (i.e., geolocators), yet the effects of geolocators on reproduction and survival have not been adequately quantified. We tested for impacts of attaching a 1-g geolocator (using a harness around the legs and back, anterior to the tail) to adult Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) on parental feeding behavior, nestling growth and size, fledging success, and return rates between 2011 and 2012. At one breeding site, we compared feeding visits, nestling growth, and nestling size between paired nest boxes where one parent was marked at the ‘geolocator’ box with a ‘control’ nest box where neither parent was marked. We detected no differences between geolocator and control nests in either the frequency of feeding visits to nestlings or the amount of time spent at nests. Birds marked with geolocators fed nestlings as frequently as their unmarked mates. Likewise, nestlings raised at geolocator nests grew at similar rates to those at control nests, and had similar structural size and body mass at fledging. At three widely-separated sites across the Tree Swallow breeding range in Canada, we also found that fledging success was similar for geolocator and control nests. Although we found no evidence for short-term negative impacts of geolocators, the return rates of geolocator-marked Tree Swallows tended to be significantly lower than those of unmarked control birds. Thus, we found little evidence for short-term impacts of geolocators on reproduction but our study does suggest that long-term impacts of geolocators could be manifested in terms of lower survival, higher emigration rates, or lower breeding propensity.


Feeding rate Fledging success Migration Nestling growth Tachycineta bicolor Tree Swallow 


Der Einfluss von Geolokatoren auf Bruterfolg und jährliche Rückkehrraten eines ziehenden Singvogels

Unsere Kenntnis der alljährlichen Wanderungen kleiner Zugvögel hat mit der Einführung kleiner, leichter Geräte zur geographischen Positionierung (Geolokatoren) stark zugenommen. Allerdings wurden die Auswirkungen dieser Geräte auf Fortpflanzung und Überleben bisher nur unzureichend getestet. Wir untersuchten die Auswirkung eines 1 g schweren Geolokators (befestigt mit Gurt um Beine und Rücken, vor dem Schwanz) auf erwachsenen Sumpfschwalben (Tachycineta bicolor) auf Fütterverhalten der Eltern, Wachstumsrate und Größe der Küken, Ausfliegeerfolg und Rückkehrraten zwischen 2011 und 2012. An einem Brutplatz wurden zudem Fütterraten, Kükenwachstum und Kükengröße zwischen paarigen Nistkästen verglichen, wo an einem Nest jeweils ein Partner mit Geolokator markiert war (Geolokator-Nistkasten), am zweiten Nest jedoch zwei unmarkierte Partner brüteten (Kontrolle). Wir fanden zwischen den beiden Gruppen keine Unterschiede in der Häufigkeit der Fütterungen oder der Zeit, die Elterntiere am Nest verbrachten. Die mit Geolokator markierten Vögel fütterten ihre Küken ebenso häufig wie ihre unmarkierten Brutpartner. Küken aus Geolokator-Nestern hatten eine ähnliche Wachstumsrate wie Küken aus Kontroll-Nestern. Obwohl wir keine kurzfristigen negativen Einflüsse fanden, waren die Rückkehrraten der mit Geolokator markierten Sumpfschwalben signifikant niedriger, als die der unmarkierten Kontrollvögel. Insgesamt fanden wir wenige Hinweise, dass Geolokatoren auf kurze Sicht die Reproduktion beeinflussen, aber auf lange Sicht fanden wir, dass Geolokatoren höhere Sterblichkeit, Auswanderung oder geringere Brutwahrscheinlichkeit bedingten.



We are grateful to A.J. Green, J.A. Amat, V.B. Harriman, K.W. Dufour, H. Schmaljohann and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on the manuscript. Thanks to V.B. Harriman, C. McKay, D. LeClair, A. Lenske, A. McKintosh, J. Mirabelli, E. Ospina, L. Schmader, C. Soos and G. Treen for help with fieldwork. J.G. was supported by an Argo GLOBAL grant, promoted by the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports and managed by the FICYT. Funding was provided by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (DRN), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grants (D.R.N., R.D.D., R.G.C.), an NSERC IRDF Fellowship (D.W.B.), an NSERC Canada Graduate Scholarship (L.L.B.), Bird Studies Canada (D.W.B., D.R.N.), and Environment Canada (R.G.C.). Bird manipulations complied with the current laws of Canada, and animal use regulations at the University of Saskatchewan (20070041), the University of Northern British Columbia (ACUC-2011-13), and the University of Guelph (11R042).


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jesús Gómez
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Chantel I. Michelson
    • 1
    • 2
  • David W. Bradley
    • 4
    • 5
  • D. Ryan Norris
    • 5
  • Lisha L. Berzins
    • 6
  • Russell D. Dawson
    • 6
  • Robert G. Clark
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Prairie and Northern Wildlife Research CentreEnvironment CanadaSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  3. 3.Doñana Biological Station, EBD-CSICSevilleSpain
  4. 4.Bird Studies CanadaPort RowanCanada
  5. 5.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  6. 6.Ecosystem Science and ManagementUniversity of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada

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