Annual changes in body mass and resting metabolism in captive barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis): the importance of wing moult

Steven Portugal, JA Green, Patrick Butler

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Many different physiological changes have been observed in wild waterfowl during the flightless stage of wing moult, including a loss of body mass. We aimed to determine whether captive barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) would show the characteristic decrease in body mass during their wing moult, even though they had unlimited and unrestricted access to food. Fourteen captive geese were weighed at 1-2-week intervals for two complete years. During the flightless period of the moult, body mass decreased by approximately 25% from the pre-moult value. To understand the basis of this change, the rate of oxygen consumption was measured during daytime and nighttime at six points in the second year, and at three points (before, during and after wing moult) behavioural observations were made. Measurements of the rate of oxygen consumption showed an 80% increase above that of the nonmoulting periods of the year. We propose that metabolism was increased during moult because of the cost of feather synthesis. Although food was available, the captive birds chose not to forage and instead increased the proportion of time spent resting. It is likely that this behaviour in response to wing moult is a strategy to avoid predation in the wild. Thus, the innate nature of this behaviour has potential survival value for wild birds of this species. We conclude that the increase in metabolism led to the use of endogenous energy reserves because the birds reduced rather than increased their food intake rates, and as a result, the barnacle geese lost body mass during wing moult.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1391-1397
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2007


  • foraging behaviour
  • moult
  • metabolism
  • annual cycles
  • barnacle goose


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