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The hummingbird's restraint: A natural model for weight control

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Summary

By day, a breeding male hummingbird gives priority to aerial performance over energy security, minimizing body weight gain to expedite flight activity. We observed behavior and monitored weight via perches on electronic balances in a territory with unlimited resources (artificial feeder). The male restricted his first feeding to less than 1/6 of crop capacity. In the ensuing 15 h, his body weight increased only 1% despite an unlimited resource of artificial nectar. This facilitated acceleration for pursuit and courtship flights and reduced energy cost. In 20 min at dusk, an intake of 34% of body weight provided adequate energy for temperature regulation all night. In July, cessation of territorial activity was accompanied by a regular upward drift of dawn weight, suggesting that weight had been regulated previously as a balance between expenditure and intake, perhaps without involving set-points.

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This research was supported by grants 3242-85 and 3513-87 from the National Geographic Society. Mr William Barber donated Perky-Pet hummingbird feeders. We thank Dana Bradley-Spencer, Ian Billick, Josephine Axt, and Sonda Eastlack for technical assistance. Federal banding permit #8081; Colorado #0063-87-89. Several colleagues and authorities and two anonymous reviewers contributed time and helpful advice following their thoughtful reading of various drafts of this paper. To the extent that their views diverged or our stubbornness persisted, it would unfair to implicate them by names.

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Calder, W.A., Calder, L.L. & Fraizer, T.D. The hummingbird's restraint: A natural model for weight control. Experientia 46, 999–1002 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01940653

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