Endangered species recovery plans are frustrated by small, spatially structured populations where understanding the influence of birth, death, and dispersal is difficult. Here we use a spatially explicit, long-term study to describe dispersal in the Cape Sable seaside sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus mirabilis). Since 1990, this species declined > 50%. It occurs as several geographically isolated subpopulations in the Florida Everglades. We characterize dispersal, recognizing that our sampling, as well as the species’ distribution, is spatially heterogeneous. The annual movements of juveniles and adults are statistically heavy-tailed. That is, while most individuals are recaptured locally, a significant portion exhibit long-distance dispersal. Individuals move between subpopulations to distances >30 km. Not accounting for the spatial heterogeneity of sampling or the species range itself underestimates dispersal and can lead to ineffective management decisions. Recovery focused on translocation will be less successful than strategies that protect habitat and increase breeding.