Many bird species of conservation concern have behavioral or morphological traits that make it difficult for researchers to determine if the birds have been uniquely marked. Those traits can also increase the difficulty for researchers to decipher those markers. As a result, it is a priority for field biologists to develop time- and cost-efficient methods to resight uniquely marked individuals, especially when efforts are spread across multiple States and study areas. The Interior Least Tern (Sternula antillarum athalassos) is one such difficult-to-resight species; its tendency to mob perceived threats, such as observing researchers, makes resighting marked individuals difficult without physical recapture. During 2015, uniquely marked adult Interior Least Terns were resighted and identified by small, inexpensive, high-definition portable video cameras deployed for 29-min periods adjacent to nests. Interior Least Tern individuals were uniquely identified 84% (n = 277) of the time. This method also provided the ability to link individually marked adults to a specific nest, which can aid in generational studies and understanding heritability for difficult-to-resight species. Mark-recapture studies on such species may be prone to sparse encounter data that can result in imprecise or biased demographic estimates and ultimately flawed inferences. High-definition video cameras may prove to be a robust method for generating reliable demographic estimates.
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Vol. 40 • No. 2