We have tested the hypothesis that a large (2 kg) migratory bird, such as the barnacle goose Branta leucopsis, becomes hypothermic before its autumn migration, when food is not scarce, but when it is necessary to conserve and/or store energy in the form of fat. Abdominal temperature (T(ab)) was measured in wild geese using an implanted data logger. Commencing a few days before and continuing until approximately 20 days after the start of their autumn migration, mean daily T(ab) fell progressively by 4.4 degrees C. Thus, it is suggested that, rather than increasing the rate of pre-migratory fattening, the energy saved as a result of this hypothermia reduces the rate at which fat is used and thus enables its more rapid replacement following and, possibly during, migration. The energy saved may also be used for the replacement of non-fat tissues such as the locomotory muscles and gastro-intestinal tract. These observations are the first of their kind from birds in their natural environment and, together with other data, demonstrate that hypothermia in endotherms is not necessarily related to extremely low environmental temperature, to shortage of food or to the resting phase of the daily cycle. The data also highlight the relationship between hypothermia and fat deposition over extended periods in relatively large, endothermic animals and may have some relevance to obesity in humans.

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