On-board 'fuel' keeps birds on the wing

Press/Media: ResearchAcademic

Description

The mysteries of how birds migrate thousands of miles without "running out of fuel" has been solved by scientists, who have found that some species can cannibalise their vital organs, including their livers, kidneys and skins, to generate inflight food.

Period5-Feb-2001

Media coverage

1

Media coverage

  • TitleOn-board 'fuel' keeps birds on the wing
    Degree of recognitionInternational
    Media name/outletThe Times
    Media typePrint
    CountryUnited Kingdom
    Date05/02/2001
    DescriptionThe mysteries of how birds migrate thousands of miles without "running out of fuel" has been solved by scientists, who have found that some species can cannibalise their vital organs, including their livers, kidneys and skins, to generate inflight food.

    Birds were thought to build up fat reserves before flight and gradually run these down, but the findings show that far more complicated changes are occuring.

    The findings, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, have come from a team studying the 3,400-mile journey of great knots migrating from northwest Australia to China. Dr Theunis Piersma, a Dutch scientist, said that similar results had been obtained from common knots migrating to Britain.

    The researchers checked the fat reserves and weights of organs in the birds before they took off on their journey north. Birds arriving in China were then screened on arrival. The team found that fat reserves were all but depleted on arrival - down by 80 per cent - but so were the vital organs, with the exception of the brain and the lungs. The birds' livers were a third of what they were before they left, as were the kidneys and intestines. Pectoral muscles, used to flap the wings, were down 20 per cent and even the heart had lost muscle, also weighing 20 per cent less.

    Dr Piersma said that what appeared to be happening was that the proteins were being channelled to the heart and breast muscles at a time when the birds were heavy with fat reserves.
    Producer/AuthorNick Nuttall
    URLwww.nexis.com/results/enhdocview.do?docLinkInd=true&ersKey=23_T23454961483&format=GNBFI&startDocNo=1&resultsUrlKey=0_T23455314483&backKey=20_T23455314484&csi=10939&docNo=6
    PersonsTheunis Piersma, Maurine Dietz

Keywords

  • bird migration