Do Remote Camera Arrangements and Image Capture Settings Improve Individual Identification of Golden Eagles?
Individual identification of animals from camera traps has become an important task in wildlife research, but camera deployment methods often do not facilitate this important undertaking. Identification of individual golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) is possible using uniquely marked rectrices, but no studies have explored methods to maximize the rate of individual identification from camera images. Our objectives were to assess whether different camera heights (1 m vs. 3 m), image capture settings (one image after a 1‐min delay vs. burst of 5 images after a 30 sec delay), and arrangements relative to bait (dorsally vs. ventrally aimed) affected views of rectrices on golden eagles and our ability to identify individuals. We conducted our study from 15 December 2016 to 3 March 2017 on the Savannah River Site, South Carolina. First, we developed a scoring system based on views of rectrices and used a linear mixed‐ effects model to compare image scores among different camera arrangements and image settings. Next, after identifying individual eagles, we used generalized linear mixed‐effects models to compare total individual eagle detections, total days an individual was detected, and probability of obtaining an unknown individual identification among camera arrangements and settings. Overall, we scored a total of 27,499 images, with 8,083 providing views of marked rectrices that allowed identification of 18 individual eagles. Average image scores and proportion of images suitable for individual identification were higher from elevated (3 m) camera arrangements than standard arrangements (1 m) across sites. Regardless of camera height, faster frequency of image capture provided more images that could be used to identify individuals and the most trap days per individual. Researchers and managers should consider deploying elevated cameras traps with faster frequency of image capture to improve data quality and potential for analysis of golden eagle populations and trends across the species’ range. Published 2021. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.