Journal of Ornithology

, 152:75 | Cite as

Simple, rapid, and non-invasive measurement of fat, lean, and total water masses of live birds using quantitative magnetic resonance

  • Christopher G. Guglielmo
  • Liam P. McGuire
  • Alexander R. Gerson
  • Chad L. Seewagen


An ideal technology for non-invasive analysis of body composition should provide highly precise and accurate direct measurements of fat, lean mass and total water of non-anaesthetized subjects within minutes. We validate a quantitative magnetic resonance (QMR) body composition analyzer for birds using House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), and Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Subjects were scanned awake for three replicate scans of 1.5–3.5 min, and results were compared to gravimetric chemical analysis. Coefficients of variation were ≤3% for dry fat, wet lean mass and total water. Accuracy of the raw QMR data for fat and total water were high (relative errors ≤±12.5 and ≤±4%, respectively), but wet lean mass was significantly biased because QMR does not detect structural tissues. Calibration against gravimetric chemical analysis removed bias and improved accuracy; relative errors were ±6–11% for fat, ±1–2% for wet lean mass, and ±2–4% for total water. QMR is field-portable when transported in a temperature-controlled trailer, and can be used to study fuel storage and body composition dynamics during migration, reproduction, nestling growth, or wintering. In the laboratory, QMR can be used for longitudinal studies of birds under photoperiod, endocrine or other manipulations. Measurements taken before and after metabolic challenges, such as flight in a wind tunnel, make it possible to calculate energy costs, fuel selection and changes in hydration. QMR should find wide application in field and laboratory studies.


Body composition Condition Energetics Lipid Magnetic resonance Validation 


Methoden für nichtinvasive Körperzusammensetzungs-Analysen sollen im Idealfall präzise und direkte Bestimmungen von Fett- und fett-freier Masse sowie dem totalen Wasseranteil von nichtanästisierten Tieren innerhalb von Minuten erlauben. Wir validieren eine quantitative Magnet-Resonanz (QMR) Körperzusammensetzungs-Analyse für Vögel anhand von Haussperling (Passer domesticus), Star (Sturnus vulgaris), und Zebrafink (Taeniopygia guttatai). Die Vögel wurden im wachen Zustand dreimal 1.5 bis 3.5 Minuten lang gemessen, und die Ergebnisse wurden mit einer chemischen Analyse verglichen. Variationskoeffizienten waren ≤ 3% für Fett (ohne Wasser), fett-freie Masse (mit Wasser) und für den gesamten Wasseranteil. Die Präzision der rohen QMR Daten für Fett und Wasseranteil war hoch (relative Messfehler: ≤±12.5% und ≤±4%), aber die Messung von fett-freier Masse (ohne Wasser) war beeinträchtigt, weil QMR keine strukturellen Gewebe erfasst. Die Kalibrierung mit chemischer Analyse behob dieses Problem und erhöhte die Genauigkeit; die relativen Messfehler waren ±6–11% für Fett, ±1–2% für fett-freie Masse (mit Wasser), and ±2–4% für den gesamten Wasseranteil. QMR findet Anwendung bei der Feldarbeit, um Fettdeposition während des Zuges, der Reproduktion, des Nestlingswachstum oder beim Űberwintern zu bestimmen. QMR kann auch im Labor angewandt werden, wenn z.B. die Photoperiode oder das Hormonsystem übere längere Zeiträume manipuliert werden. Messungen, die vor und nach Manipulation des Stoffwechels stattfinden, wie z.B. nach einem Flug in einem Windtunnel, ermöglichen es, Energiekosten, Brennstoffzusammensetzung und Veränderungen im Hydrationszustand zu berechnen.



We are grateful to Echo Medical Systems and Glendale RV for working with us to customize and troubleshoot a QMR system and an RV trailer. In particular, we thank G. Taicher, B. Burdette, G. Fischel, I. Kovner, V. Rubin and G. Marra for their efforts. We thank E. Price and S. MacDougall-Shackleton for helping us to obtain birds, D. Cerasale for measuring bird skeletons, Y. Morbey for programming simulations in SAS, and H. Mouritsen for insight into the potential effects of magnetic fields. Thanks to S. Nebel for German translation. Funding was provided by an NSERC Discovery Grant to C.G.G., grants from the Leaders Opportunity Fund of the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund to C.G.G. and E. MacDougall-Shackleton, and in-kind contributions from Echo Medical Systems and Glendale RV.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher G. Guglielmo
    • 1
  • Liam P. McGuire
    • 1
  • Alexander R. Gerson
    • 1
  • Chad L. Seewagen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biology, Advanced Facility for Avian ResearchUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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