We examined whether low ambient temperatures influence foraging behavior of precocial Japanese quail chicks and alter the balance between investment in growth and thermogenic function. To test this, one group of chicks was exposed to 7 degreesC and one group to 24 degreesC during foraging throughout the developmental stage. Chicks adapted well to the temperatures through a high flexibility in behavior and physiological development. In response to cold, chicks shortened foraging bout lengths two- to sixfold, and increased cycle lengths (i.e. length of a brooding bout plus subsequent foraging bout), resulting in a decrease in total foraging time. Body temperature during foraging was lower in cold-exposed chicks but did not drop below 37.8 degreesC, suggesting that the direct cause to end a foraging bout was not body temperature. The metabolic rate of cold-exposed chicks was reduced by 48% to 60% when switching from foraging to brooding, which may be an important factor in determining foraging behavior of precocial chicks. Mass-specific food intake of the cold-exposed chicks exceeded that of warm chicks by 15%. Cold-exposed chicks doubled foraging efficiency to reach this intake during their reduced foraging time. Metabolic rates initially were similar in both groups, but increased rapidly and were elevated in cold-exposed chicks from 15 days of age onward. Growth rate initially was reduced in cold-exposed chicks, and exceeded growth of warm chicks only after 21 days of age. These results suggest that in response to cold, a shift occurs in the balance between growth rate and thermoregulatory function in favor of thermoregulatory function. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.