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Frequent nocturnal torpor in a free-ranging Australian honeyeater, the noisy miner

Geiser, Fritz
Die Naturwissenschaften 2019 v.106 no.5-6 pp. 28
Passeriformes, birds, cold season, energy conservation, energy expenditure, food availability, heat production, hypothermia, mammals, resting periods, winter, woodlands, Australia
Torpor in birds is considered to be far less common than in mammals. This is particularly true for passerine birds for which knowledge of torpor expression is scarce, although almost all are small, have high energy expenditure and could profit energetically from using torpor. To assess whether the extent and diversity of avian and especially passerine torpor expression and heterothermy may be currently underestimated because of limited long-term data on free-ranging birds, core body temperature fluctuations were quantified over ~ 4.3 months in a medium-sized honeyeater, the noisy miner (Manorina melanocephala, ~ 75 g), in an open woodland during the cold season in eastern Australia. Miners used shallow nocturnal torpor frequently (63% of days), torpor bouts lasted on average for 6.5 h (maximum 13.5 h) and, unlike during hypothermia, torpor was terminated by endogenous heat production for rewarming. Body temperatures (Tb) ranged from a maximum of 43.5 °C to a minimum of 33.0 °C, often fell by 7 °C at night, and the overall mean Tb was 38.7 ± 0.7 °C. The data show that yet another passerine bird, widely viewed to be homeothermic, expresses torpor in the wild for energy conservation. Considering the size of miners, it seems probable that many other, especially smaller birds, use a similar approach at least in winter to enhance the chance of survival in the face of high energy expenditure and low food availability.