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Little is known about Least Tern (Sterna antillarum) chicks from the time they leave the nest until fledging because they are highly mobile and cryptically colored. We evaluated the efficacy of using radiotelemetry to monitor Interior Least Tern (S. a. athalassos) chicks at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma. In 1999, we attached radio transmitters to 26 Least Tern chicks and tracked them for 2-17 days. No adults abandoned their chicks after transmitters were attached. Transmitters did not appear to alter growth rates of transmittered chicks (P = 0.36) or prevent feather growth, although dermal irritation was observed on one chick. However, without frequent reattachment, transmitters generally did not remain on chicks <1 week old for more than 2 days because of feather growth and transmitter removal, presumably by adult terns. Although the presence of transmitters did not adversely affect Least Tern chicks, future assessments should investigate nonintrusive methods to improve retention of transmitters on young chicks and reduce the number of times that chicks need to be handled.
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Efficacy of using radio transmitters to monitor least tern chicks