House sparrows offset the physiological trade-off between immune response and feather growth by adjusting foraging behavior

Miriam Ben-Hamo, Cynthia J. Downs, Darren J. Burns, Berry Pinshow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Growing feathers and mounting immune responses are both energetically costly for birds. According to the life history trade-off hypothesis, it has been posited that the costs of feather growth lead to temporal isolation between molt and other expensive activities, reproduction for example. In contrast to life cycle events, the need to mount an immune response can occur at any time, including during feather growth. Thus, we hypothesized that mounting an immune response during feather growth may divert energy and resources from feather growth and impair feather renewal. To test this hypothesis, we clipped or plucked the same feathers of male house sparrows Passer domesticus biblicus. In the clipped group (n = 16), the feathers were absent with no regrowth; in the plucked group (n = 14), feathers were absent and regrowth was initiated. We also had an intact control group of 15 sparrows. We then initiated an inflammatory immune response by subcutaneous injection over the left breast muscle of the birds with a lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and quantified behavioral and physiological responses. We predicted that sparrows with plucked feathers would incur the highest energetic costs while mounting an immune response, and would increase their foraging effort to offset this cost. We found no difference in body mass and resting metabolic rates among sparrows subjected to the different feather and immune treatments. However, we did find that while sparrows with plucked feathers increased foraging efficiency following the immune challenge by paying fewer but longer visits to the food tray, allowing them to maintain food consumption. Foraging efficiency in sparrows with clipped feathers was reduced. We also found that quality of newly grown feathers after the immune challenge was poorer in the plucked group, suggesting that mounting an immune response competes with feather growth for resources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)837-845
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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