Avian energetic studies broadly deal with bird physiology and their energetic gains and losses throughout annual cycle. Birds obtain fat, protein, and minerals from the foods they consume throughout the year. These nutritional constituents are subsequently incorporated into body tissues or are stored so they can be used by birds during times of heightened energetic demand. For example, birds may mobilize fat, protein, and minerals to provision eggs during breeding or metabolize fat as an energy source during migration. Changes in body and reproductive components of birds over time can reveal relatively short-term environmental, habitat, or food-based changes or can elucidate energy storage, molt, growth, survival, and breeding strategies of birds shaped by longer-term processes such as natural selection. Thus, avian energetics has been, and remains, an important and relatively well studied aspect of avian ecology.
Left: inside the Avian Energetics Lab, Jessica McGreggor (a high-school co-op student) is preparing a Spectacled Eider before placing it in the drying oven.
Determination of fat, protein, and mineral content of birds and their eggs are a central part of many energetic studies. Few laboratories are capable of making these precise determinations because they require trained, expert staff and very specialized equipment. Dr. Dave Ankney developed the Avian Energetics Lab in the late 1970’s at the University of Western Ontario to advance his research interests and those of his graduate students. Through the years the Avian Energetics Lab evolved and began to provide services to other university researchers and graduate students studying numerous aspects of avian ecology. In October 2003, Dr. Ankney retired from the University of Western Ontario and transferred the laboratory and its equipment to Bird Studies Canada so this valuable scientific service could continue indefinitely.
Left: Kerrie Wilcox checks a subsample of carcass homogenates that were previously weighed and then placed into the fat extraction apparatus. The solvent within the apparatus removes fat from the carcass homogenate sample. After a specified period of time, Kerrie will re-weigh the samples, enabling a determination of the relative amount of fat originally present in the sample, and then use that information to calculate the fat content for the entire bird.