Backpack harnesses are commonly used to attach radio and satellite transmitters to a wide range of bird species for research and conservation management. They are an integral part of the conservation management of the New Zealand Takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri), an endangered flightless rail. Radio transmitters mounted on backpack harnesses enable the birds to be tracked in their remaining native range of remote, mountainous Fiordland, New Zealand. We evaluated 26 Takahē retrospectively at necropsy by gross examination, radiography, and computed tomography to assess damage from the backpack harness. Ten birds that had never worn a harness had no evidence of wing injury. Of the 16 birds that had worn a harness, 10 (63%) had superficial soft tissue injury to skin or patagium or more severe injury, such as remodeling of the distal humerus at the harness cord-wing interface, or pathologic fractures. Such injuries are hypothesized to be associated with discomfort, increased risk of infection or fracture, and therefore reduced fitness. These findings have implications for all avian species deployed with backpack harnesses.
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Vol. 49 • No. 3