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A video surveillance system to monitor breeding colonies of common terns (Sterna Hirundo)

November 30, 2018

Many waterbird populations have faced declines over the last century, including the common tern (Sterna hirundo), a waterbird species with a widespread breeding distribution, that has been recently listed as endangered in some habitats of its range. Waterbird monitoring programs exist to track populations through time; however, some of the more intensive approaches require entering colonies and can be disruptive to nesting populations. This paper describes a protocol that utilizes a minimally invasive surveillance system to continuously monitor common tern nesting behavior in typical ground-nesting colonies. The video monitoring system utilizes wireless cameras focused on individual nests as well as over the colony as a whole, and allows for observation without entering the colony. The video system is powered with several 12 V car batteries that are continuously recharged using solar panels. Footage is recorded using a digital video recorder (DVR) connected to a hard drive, which can be replaced when full. The DVR may be placed outside of the colony to reduce disturbance. In this study, 3,624 h of footage recorded over 63 days in weather conditions ranging from 12.8 °C to 35.0 °C produced 3,006 h (83%) of usable behavioral data. The types of data retrieved from the recorded video can vary; we used it to detect external disturbances and measure nesting behavior during incubation. Although the protocol detailed here was designed for ground-nesting waterbirds, the principal system could easily be modified to accommodate alternative scenarios, such as colonial arboreal nesting species, making it widely applicable to a variety of research needs.

Publication Year 2018
Title A video surveillance system to monitor breeding colonies of common terns (Sterna Hirundo)
DOI 10.3791/57928
Authors J.L. Wall, Paul Marban, D.F. Brinker, J.D. Sullivan, M. Zimnik, J.L. Murrow, P. C. McGowan, Carl R. Callahan, Diann J. Prosser
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Visualized Experiments
Index ID 70202549
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center