Studies of cliff-nesting raptors can be challenging because direct observations of nest contents are difficult. Our goals were to develop a protocol for installing motion-activated trail cameras at Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) nests to record diet information and productivity, and to estimate prey detection probability using different diet study methods. In 2014 and 2015, we installed cameras at 12 Golden Eagle nests with 18–42-d-old nestlings. Following installation, we monitored adult behavior using direct observation and post-installation image review. At two nests, adult eagles did not return to nests or exhibited behaviors suggesting avoidance of the cameras, but returned to the nests after cameras were removed. We visited the 10 remaining nests every 4 d to collect prey remains and pellets to generate prey-specific detection estimates for both images, and prey remains and pellets. Compared to inspection of prey remains and pellets, cameras recorded twice the number of prey (622 vs. 316), were more likely to detect the smallest and largest prey, and cost half as much. Cameras recorded productivity, fledging dates, and in one case, a nestling death. Trail cameras may be a reliable and cost-effective option to address clearly defined research goals and obtain required information about eagle behavior and nest contents. However, cameras should be used judiciously because installation creates a persistent manipulation at the nest. Camera appearance should be minimized, and post-installation monitoring that allows for timely responses to nest-avoidance behavior by adult eagles is important to prevent adverse effects on nesting success.
This document was originally published in Journal of Raptor Research by the Raptor Research Foundation. Copyright restrictions may apply. doi: 10.3356/JRR-18-26
Harrison, Jordan T.; Kochert, Michael N.; Pauli, Benjamin P.; and Heath, Julie A.. (2019). "Using Motion-Activated Trail Cameras to Study Diet and Productivity of Cliff-Nesting Golden Eagles". Journal of Raptor Research, 53(1), 26-37.