Hypoxic Birds: Temperature and Respiration

  • Marvin H. Bernstein
Part of the Clinical Physiology Series book series (CLINPHY)


The extreme cold at high altitudes compounds the hypoxic challenge that resident animals must meet. A bird called the alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus), for example, lives and reproduces at 6500 m (53) where the Po2 is 69 mm Hg and the temperature averages −27°C (43). Despite increased solar radiation and efficient insulation, this and similar species undoubtedly increase their O2 utilization in defending homeothermy while at rest. Montane birds, like lowland birds, use flight as a primary mode of locomotion. Moreover, some sea-level residents climb to high altitudes where they may migrate great distances. Increased exposure, as birds spread the wings, along with increased convection to subfreezing air, unavoidably increase heat loss. The saving factor, perhaps, is that flight, the most metabolically demanding form of vertebrate exercise, is accompanied by huge quantities of heat production in the pectoral muscles. Thus, the source of power for the activity that causes the loss of heat also produces its replacement.


High Altitude Heat Loss Heat Production Pectoral Muscle Brain Temperature 
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© American Physiological Society 1991

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  • Marvin H. Bernstein

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