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The avian “hibernation” enigma: thermoregulatory patterns and roost choice of the common poorwill

Woods, Christopher P., Czenze, Zenon J., Brigham, R. Mark
Oecologia 2019 v.189 no.1 pp. 47-53
birds, heat, mammals, radio transmitters, resting periods, skin temperature, solar radiation, winter, Arizona
Compared to mammals, there are relatively few studies examining heterothermy in birds. In 13 bird families known to contain heterothermic species, the common poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) is the only species that ostensibly hibernates. We used temperature-sensitive radio-transmitters to collect roost and skin temperature (Tₛₖᵢₙ) data, and winter roost preferences for free-ranging poorwills in southern Arizona. Further, to determine the effect of passive rewarming on torpor bout duration and active rewarming (i.e., the use of metabolic heat to increase Tₛₖᵢₙ), we experimentally shaded seven birds during winter to prevent them from passively rewarming via solar radiation. Poorwills selected winter roosts that were open to the south or southwest, facilitating passive solar warming in the late afternoon. Shaded birds actively rewarmed following at least 3 days of continuous torpor. Average torpor bout duration by shaded birds was 122 h and ranged from 91 to 164 h. Active rewarming by shaded birds occurred on significantly warmer days than those when poorwills remained torpid. One shaded bird remained inactive for 45 days, during which it spontaneously rewarmed actively on eight occasions. Our findings show that during winter poorwills exhibit physiological patterns and active rewarming similar to hibernating mammals.