ABSTRACT The fact that body temperature can rise or fall following exposure to stressors has been known for nearly two millennia; however, the functional value of this phenomenon remains poorly understood. We tested two competing hypotheses to explain stress-induced changes in temperature, with respect to surface tissues. Under the first hypothesis, changes in surface temperature are a consequence of vasoconstriction that occur to attenuate blood loss in the event of injury and serve no functional purpose per se; defined as the ‘haemoprotective hypothesis’. Under the second hypothesis, changes in surface temperature reduce thermoregulatory burdens experienced during activation of a stress response, and thus hold a direct functional value: the ‘thermoprotective hypothesis’. To understand whether stress-induced changes in surface temperature have functional consequences, we tested predictions of these two hypotheses by exposing black-capped chickadees ( n =20) to rotating stressors across an ecologically relevant ambient temperature gradient, while non-invasively monitoring surface temperature (eye region temperature) using infrared thermography. Our results show that individuals exposed to rotating stressors reduce surface temperature and dry heat loss at low ambient temperature and increase surface temperature and dry heat loss at high ambient temperature, when compared with controls. These results support the thermoprotective hypothesis and suggest that changes in surface temperature following stress exposure have functional consequences and are consistent with an adaptation. Such findings emphasize the importance of the thermal environment in shaping physiological responses to stressors in vertebrates, and in doing so, raise questions about their suitability within the context of a changing climate.