Free-living Allen's hummingbirds (Selasphorus sasin) rarely use torpor while nesting

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Abstract

For reproducing animals, maintaining energy balance despite thermoregulatory challenges is important for surviving and successfully raising offspring. This is especially apparent in small endotherms that exhibit high mass-specific metabolic rates and live in unpredictable environments. Many of these animals use torpor, substantially reducing their metabolic rate and often body temperature to cope with high energetic demands during non-foraging periods. In birds, when the incubating parent uses torpor, the lowered temperatures that thermally sensitive offspring experience could delay development or increase mortality risk. We used thermal imaging to noninvasively explore how nesting female hummingbirds sustain their own energy balance while effectively incubating their eggs and brooding their chicks. We located 67 active Allen's hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) nests in Los Angeles, California and recorded nightly time-lapse thermal images at 14 of these nests for 108 nights using thermal cameras. We found that nesting females usually avoided entering torpor, with one bird entering deep torpor on two nights (2% of nights), and two other birds possibly using shallow torpor on three nights (3% of nights). We also modeled nightly energetic requirements of a bird experiencing nest temperatures vs. ambient temperature and using torpor or remaining normothermic, using data from similarly-sized broad-billed hummingbirds. Overall, we suggest that the warm environment of the nest, and possibly shallow torpor, help brooding female hummingbirds reduce their own energy requirements while prioritizing the energetic demands of their offspring.

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Eberts, E. R., Tattersall, G. J., Auger, P. J., Curley, M., Morado, M. I., Strauss, E. G., … Shankar, A. (2023). Free-living Allen’s hummingbirds (Selasphorus sasin) rarely use torpor while nesting. Journal of Thermal Biology, 112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtherbio.2022.103391

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