Heterothermy, and the energetic consequences of huddling in small migrating passerine birds

Michał S. Wojciechowski, Małgorzata Jefimow, Berry Pinshow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The success of migration of small passerine birds depends largely on effective refueling at stopover sites. In our previous studies, we found that hypothermia facilitates accumulation of fuel at the beginning of a stopover. Later we found that blackcaps, Sylvia atricapilla, might further reduce their energy expenditure by huddling while at rest. Here, we report experimental results supporting our hypothesis that huddling is beneficial to small migrating passerines both from energetic and thermoregulatory points of view. To test this hypothesis we measured metabolic rates and body temperatures of seven blackcaps placed in respirometry chambers overnight, either solitarily or in groups of three or four at ambient temperatures of 5, 10, and 15°C. Concurring with our predictions, huddling blackcaps maintained higher body temperatures than did solitary birds, but had mass-specific metabolic rates lower by ∼30 than those of solitary individuals. Based on our previous studies, we estimated energy savings through huddling to be comparable to energy savings through hypothermia in solitary blackcaps and suggest that huddling may be an important way of saving energy for small passerine birds resting at migratory stopovers. At the same time it might offer the additional benefit of lower risk of predation. In this light, we predict that huddling occurs frequently in nature, leading to significant savings of energy, faster accumulation of fuel, presumably lower risk of becoming a prey, more successful migration, and eventually increased fitness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-418
Number of pages10
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


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