Neckband or backpack? Differences in tag design and their effects on GPS/accelerometer tracking results in large waterbirds

Andrea Kölzsch*, Marjolein Neefjes, Jude Barkway, G.J.D.M. Müskens, Frank van Langevelde, Willem F. de Boer, Herbert H.T. Prins, Brian H. Cresswell, Bart A. Nolet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


GPS and accelerometer tracking presently revolutionises the fields of ecology and animal behaviour. However, the effects of tag characteristics like weight, attachment and data quality on study outcomes and animal welfare are important to consider. In this study, we compare how different tag attachment types influence the behaviour of a group of tagged large waterbirds, GPS accuracy and behaviour classification success from accelerometer data.

Both neckband and backpack tags had similar effects on the behaviour of six captive Canada geese (Branta canadensis), increasing the amount of discomfort behaviour in relation to untagged individuals. Both treatment groups also slightly decreased the amount of foraging, but the duration of neither vigilance nor resting was affected. GPS positions that were filtered with classical GPS platform settings (i.e. smoothing) were more accurate than positions improved by satellite-based differential augmentation. Tag attachment, however, did not induce any differences in position accuracy of both data types. Behaviour classification success was generally similar for neckband and backpack tags. But in detail, behaviours mainly performed by the head like foraging and vigilance were better detected from accelerometer data of neckband tags, whereas behaviours like resting and walking were more successfully detected from backpack tag data.

Our findings suggest that the use of neckband or backpack tags for tracking large waterbirds and their behaviour largely depends on which behaviours are most important to detect. However, for wildlife tracking studies, factors like tag retention time are also of great importance, especially for animals like some goose species that are known to quickly destroy backpack tags. For future studies, we advise to carefully evaluate not only tag weight, but also attachment methods and data quality, because the right choice depends on the research question. This will improve the scope of wildlife tracking even more for various scientific, conservation and management applications.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13
JournalAnimal Biotelemetry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Accelerometer
  • Animal tracking
  • Behaviour classification
  • Branta c. canadensis
  • Canada goose
  • Differential GPS accuracy
  • SBAS
  • Tag attachment
  • Tag effects
  • Tag placement


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