Thermal and energetic consequences of nest location and breeding times in Water Pipits (Anthus spinoletta)

Claudia Rauter, Heinz Ulrich Reyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The thermal environment has pronounced effects on the energy costs of thermoregulation and affects an animal's allocation of energy to self-maintenance and parental care. Consequently, the selection of reproductive periods, breeding habitats and nest-sites with a favourable microclimate can be advantageous, especially for birds breeding in harsh environments. In this study on Alpine Water Pipits (Anthus spinoletta), we evaluate the importance of spatial and temporal factors on thermoregulatory costs by combining laboratory measurements of metabolic rates under various temperatures with standard operative temperatures (T(es)) recorded in the field in different microhabitats. Using these measurements we estimate the thermal and energetic consequences of nest locality and timing of reproduction. Our results show: (1) In the morning, T(es) values were much higher on the east-north-east (ENE) slope of a valley than on the west-south-west (WSW) slope; in the afternoon this pattern was reversed. As a consequence, energy costs (E(hour)) for thermoregulation on the ENE slope were up to 0.6 RMR (resting metabolic rate at night) lower than on the WSW slope during morning hours and about 0.8 RMR higher during afternoon hours. (2) During the incubation and nestling phases of first and second broods, total energy expenditure for thermoregulation in the daytime (E(daytime)) was 0.2-0.3 RMR higher on the ENE slope than on the WSW slope. (3) Within slopes, E(daytime) was lower during second broods than during first broods, with differences of 0.06-0.07 RMR during incubation and of 0.32 RMR during nestling care. These differences correspond to the flying costs of females incubating eggs (0.09 RMR) and rearing nestlings (0.25 RMR). We conclude that nest placement in relation to microclimate can improve the female's energy budget, both in terms of the total daily expenditure and its diurnal pattern. From thermal considerations alone, delaying breeding into mid-summer would be advantageous, but this advantage is probably outweighed by the reduced chances for second and replacement clutches and by the necessity to complete moult before migration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-407
Number of pages17
JournalJournal fur Ornithologie
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Breeding biology
  • Energy expenditure
  • Habitat selection
  • Metabolic rate
  • Thermoregulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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