Project Update: Do small birds use torpor?
Back in July I spent a few weeks in the field with Yaara Aharon-Rotman working on a project investigating the use of torpor (a kind of short-term slow down of the metabolism to save energy, like a mini-hibernation) in passerine birds. You can read the original post here.
I have just returned from another two-week trip trying to catch a few more birds to see if torpor is being used across different seasons. The original capture was in winter and we found some encouraging signs of torpor in Eastern Yellow Robins and White-throated Treecreepers. Now we wanted to see if they might also employ this strategy for saving energy even when food is abundant and the days are long and sunny.
Unfortunately the days were less than sunny and we had to dodge thunderstorms most of the time but we did manage to catch a few more birds and equip them with fancy new transmitters. Most importantly, we finally caught my archenemy Erik the Treecreeper who bounced out of our nets last time and continually teased us by feeding on the ground but never getting caught. Well, it only took six months but Erik has now embarked on his new life as a scientist. We also recaptured an old reliable friend from last time Dougal the Treecreeper and refreshed his transmitter. Dougal and Erik join Fredrick on Team Treecreeper and Veronika on Team Robin.
On this trip we had the assistance of the excellent Steve Debus who is an ornithological legend in Australia and literally wrote the book on Australian raptors. Having Steve along provided the added bonus of his ability to spot raptor species like Little Eagles and Square-tailed Kites and their nests seemingly out of the corner of his eye.
It looks like the field work has wrapped up on this project now so hopefully over the next few months we will be churning out a publication on the interesting nighttime shenanigans of these little birds.