Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 December 2020
Identifying the fate of birds’ nests and the causes of breeding failure is often crucial for the development of conservation strategies for threatened species. However, collecting these data by repeatedly visiting nests might itself contribute to nest failure or bias. To solve this dilemma, automatic cameras have increasingly been used as a time-efficient means for nest monitoring. Here, we consider whether the use of cameras itself may influence hatching success of nests of the Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa at two long-term study sites in northern Germany. Annually between 2013 and 2019, cameras were used to monitor godwit nests. In 2014 and 2019, nests were randomly equipped with cameras or not, and nest survival checked independently of the cameras. Nest-survival models indicated that survival probabilities varied between years, sites and with time of the season, but were unaffected by the presence of cameras. Even though predation is the main cause of hatching failure in our study system, we conclude that predators did not learn to associate cameras with food either when the cameras were initially installed or after they had been used for several years. Cameras were thus an effective and non-deleterious tool to collect data for conservation in this case. As other bird species may react differently to cameras at their nests, and as other sets of predators may differ in their ability to associate cameras with food, the effect of cameras on breeding success should be carefully monitored when they are used in a new study system.