The prevalence of non-breeders in raptor populations: evidence from rings, radio-tags and transect surveys


  • R. E. Kenward,

  • S. S. Walls,

  • K. H. Hodder,

  • M. Pahkala,

  • S. N. Freeman,

  • V. R. Simpson

R. E. Kenward and K. H. Hodder, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Winfrith Technology Centre, Dorset, UK DT2 8ZD ( – S. S. Walls, Biotrack, 52 Furzebrook Road, Wareham, Dorset, UK BH20 5AX. – M. Pahkala, Dept of Zoology, Univ. of Oulu, Linnanmaa, FIN-90570 Oulu, Finland. – S. N. Freeman, Inst. of Mathematics and Statistics, Univ. of Kent at Canterbury, Canterbury, Kent, UK CT2 7NF. – V. R. Simpson, Veterinary Investigation Centre, Polwhele, Truro, Cornwall, UK TR4 9AD.


Age-specific survival and breeding (ASSAB) models were developed with data from 146 common buzzards (Buteo buteo) radio-tagged in southern Britain during 1990–1998, in a 120-km2 study area that had on average 25 egg-laying pairs. Survival checks were aided by philopatric behaviour and a maximum annual tag failure rate of 7%: minimum survival rates, that were estimated by assuming death of buzzards with lost tags, were close to maximum rates that were estimated using only the recorded deaths. First-year survival rate estimates for 35 buzzards fitted in 1990–1991 with 25–30-g backpack radios were 69–74% (minimum-maximum), close to the 61–71% for 16 buzzards with 12-g tail-mount radios; the backpacks transmitted for 2–4 yr. Overall survival rates were 66–73% in the first year, 91–97% in the second and 88–91% thereafter. Survival estimates from 288 recent British ring recoveries were lower in the first and second years, at 55% and 75%, but similar (88%) thereafter. Most deaths were from natural causes (40%) or interaction with artefacts (36%). ASSAB models, from radio-tracking and the observed 1.71 young clutch−1, predicted breeding by 16–21% of all the buzzards present in spring, or up to 25% with the minimum likely productivity of 1.4 young clutch−1 or 12% net emigration. Ringing data predicted breeding rates of 33–38%. The models were tested with density data from nest surveys and new radio-corrected-transect and truncation-mark-resighting estimates of buzzard numbers. Surveys in autumn and late winter estimated breeding rates of 21–25%. The high non-breeder density in spring, of three other buzzards for each paired bird with eggs, has important implications for understanding evolutionary fitness, predation and population ecology.