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Nature. 1986 Mar 6-12;320(6057):62-3.

Digestive physiology is a determinant of foraging bout frequency in hummingbirds.


Hummingbirds are among the smallest endothermic vertebrates. Because they forage by energetically costly hovering, and because weight-specific basal metabolic rates increase with decreasing body size, their basal and active metabolic rates are among the highest recorded. Hummingbirds fuel these metabolic requirements mainly with highly concentrated sugar in nectar, which they extract rapidly and efficiently by an unknown mechanism. It is especially puzzling that, despite their high energy requirements, hummingbirds spend only approximately 20% of their waking hours feeding, but 75% perched and apparently doing nothing. Here we report the first measurement of nutrient absorption by hummingbird intestine and present a new method for measuring crop-emptying times. We find that hummingbird intestine has the highest active glucose transport rate and lowest passive glucose permeability reported for any vertebrate. Crop-emptying time may limit feeding-bout frequency and could largely account for the time spent perched.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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