It is well established that the nutrient and energy requirements of birds increase substantially during moult, but it is not known if these increased demands affect their aerobic capacity. We quantified the absolute aerobic scope of house and Spanish sparrows, Passer domesticus and P. hispaniolensis, respectively, before and during sequential stages of their moult period. The absolute aerobic scope (AAS) is the difference between maximum metabolic rate (MMR) during peak locomotor activities and minimum resting metabolic rate (RMR min ), thus representing the amount of aerobic power above that committed to maintenance needs available for other activities. As expected, RMR min increased over the moult period by up to 40 and 63% in house and Spanish sparrows, respectively. Surprisingly, the maximum metabolic rates also decreased during moult in both species, declining as much as 25 and 38% compared with pre-moult values of house and Spanish sparrows, respectively. The concurrent changes in RMR min and MMR during moult resulted in significant decreases in AAS, being up to 32 and 47% lower than pre-moult levels of house and Spanish sparrows, respectively, during moult stages having substantial feather replacement. We argue that the combination of reduced flight efficiency due to loss of wing feathers and reduced aerobic capacity places moulting birds at greater risk of predation. Such performance constraints likely contribute to most birds temporally separating moult from annual events requiring peak physiological capacity such as breeding and migration.
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