, Volume 62, Issue 3, pp 376–381

Energetics of free existence in swallows and martins (hirundinidae) during breeding: a comparative study using doubly labeled water


  • Klaas R. Westerterp
    • Department of BiologyUniversity of Stirling
  • David M. Bryant
    • Department of BiologyUniversity of Stirling
Original Papers

DOI: 10.1007/BF00384270

Cite this article as:
Westerterp, K.R. & Bryant, D.M. Oecologia (1984) 62: 376. doi:10.1007/BF00384270


Energy metabolism of three sympatric swallows (Hirundinidae) was investigated during the breeding season using doubly labeled water (2H218O). Interspecific and intraspecific differences in energy metabolism were examined in relation to the habits, size and environment of the birds. To facilitate comparisons we expressed energy metabolism (M) as the ratio of average daily metabolic rate (ADMR, cm3CO2g-1h-1) to basal metabolic rate (BMR). We observed adults during incubation and when feeding nestlings. Then, both sexes of Sand Martins Riparia riparia and House Martins Delinchon urbica were either at the nest or on the wing. Incubation reduced activity levels during the day resulting in M (incubation) being 17–26% lower than during rearing. Differences in energy costs for rearing chicks depended mainly on flight behaviour, the smaller Sand Martin doing nearly twice as much flapping during flight as the House Martin, giving higher values for M. In Swallows Hirundo rustica the female incubates alone, alternating between short feeding trips and incubating in daytime. This pattern was linked with a relatively high value for M in the only individual behaving like our controls. Both sexes of Swallows feed the chicks, and they showed similar values of M. They also closely resembled House Martins, despite contrasts in the time spent flying and their behaviour during flight. Feeding conditions affected activity, and thereby M, in a species specific way. The House Martin did more gliding in poor weather, taking less mobile prey, reducing M. Swallows reduced foraging costs further by using body reserves, as in the House Martin. The smaller Sand Martin, in contrast, showed a high expenditure in poor weather. Over two breeding seasons ADMR reached values around 5 BMR for all three species.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1984