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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Heat loss in sleeping Garden Warblers (Sylvia borin) during migration

Ferretti, Andrea; Maggini, Ivan; Cardinale, Massimiliano; Fusani, Leonida


For small songbirds, energy is often a limiting factor during migration and, for this reason, they are forced to alternate nocturnal flights with stopovers to rest and replenish energy stores. Stopover duration has a key role for a successful migration and may have an important impact on fitness. Thus, migrants need to optimize their energy consumption at this stage to reduce their permanence at the site. A recent study has shown that lean individuals reduce their metabolic rate when tucking the head in the feathers during sleep. The underlying mechanism is very likely a reduction in conductance, but the thermoregulatory benefit of the increased insulation has never been quantified yet. Here, we compared heat loss in individual migratory birds while sleeping in different postures. Using a thermal camera and a within-individual approach, we estimated that Garden Warblers can reduce their rate of heat loss by 54% by sleeping with the head tucked in the feathers. This energy saving has a relevant impact on the individual’s energy balance because it can account for up to 8.69% of daily energy expenditure during stopover. Our study provides novel and important information to understand the fundamental role of thermoregulatory strategies on bird’s energy management.


spring migration; stopover; thermo-imaging; sleep posture; songbird; heat dissipation

Published in

Journal of Thermal Biology
2020, Volume: 94, article number: 102772