Lethal control, which has been used to reduce local abundances of animals in conflict with humans or with endangered species, may not achieve management goals if animal movement is not considered. In populations with emigration and immigration, lethal control may induce compensatory immigration, if the source of attraction remains unchanged. Within the Columbia River Basin (Washington, U.S.A.), avian predators forage at dams because dams tend to reduce rates of emigration of juvenile salmonids (Oncorhynchus spp.), artificially concentrating these prey. We used differences in fatty acid profiles between Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia) at coastal and inland breeding colonies and terns culled by a lethal control program at a mid-Columbia River dam to infer dispersal patterns. We modeled the rate of loss of fatty acid biomarkers, which are fatty acids that can be traced to a single prey species or groups of species, to infer whether and when terns foraging at dams had emigrated from the coast. Nonmetric multidimensional scaling showed that coastal terns had high levels of C20 and C22 monounsaturated fatty acids, whereas fatty acids of inland breeders were high in C18:3n3, C20:4n6, and C22:5n3. Models of the rate of loss of fatty acid showed that approximately 60% of the terns collected at Rock Island Dam were unlikely to have bred successfully at local (inland) sites, suggesting that terns foraging at dams come from an extensive area. Fatty acid biomarkers may provide accurate information about patterns of dispersal in animal populations and may be extremely valuable in cases where populations differ demonstrably in prey base. ??2011 Society for Conservation Biology.