Effects of radiomarking on prairie falcons: Attachment failures provide insights about survival

Karen Steenhof, Kirk K. Bates, Mark R. Fuller, Michael N. Kochert, James O. McKinley, Paul M. Lukacs

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


From 1999-2002, we attached satellite-received platform transmitter terminals (PTTs) to 40 adult female prairie falcons (Falco mexicanus) on their nesting grounds in the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (NCA) in southwest Idaho. We used 3 variations of a backpack harness design that had been used previously on raptors. Each radiomarked falcon also received a color leg band with a unique alphanumeric code. We monitored survival of birds using radiotelemetry and searched for marked birds on their nesting grounds during breeding seasons after marking. Because 6 falcons removed their harnesses during the first year, we were able to compare survival rates of birds that shed PTTs with those that retained them. We describe a harness design that failed prematurely as well as designs that proved successful for long-term PTT attachment. We resighted 21 marked individuals on nesting areas 1-5 years after they were radiomarked and documented 13 mortalities of satellite-tracked falcons. We used a Cormack-Jolly-Seber model to estimate apparent survival probability based on band resighting and telemetry data. Platform transmitter terminals had no short-term effects on falcons or their nesting success during the nesting season they were marked, but birds that shed their transmitters increased their probability of survival. Estimated annual survival for birds that shed their transmitters was 87% compared to 49% for birds wearing transmitters. We discuss possible reasons for differences in apparent survival rates and offer recommendations for future marking of falcons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-126
Number of pages11
JournalWildlife Society Bulletin
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2006


  • Attachment techniques
  • Backpack
  • Falco mexicanus
  • Harness
  • Prairie falcon
  • Radiotelemetry
  • Radiotransmitters
  • Reproduction
  • Satellite telemetry
  • Survival


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