Energy for the road: Influence of carbohydrate and water availability on fueling processes in autumn-migrating passerines

Adi Domer*, Ofer Ovadia, Eyal Shochat

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lipids stored subcutaneously serve as the main energy source for long-distance bird migration. The 2 major inputs of such lipids are dietary fats and de novo synthesis of fatty acids from acetyl-CoA derived from non-lipid sources, including ingested carbohydrates. Remarkably, relatively little is known about the specific roles of dietary fats and carbohydrates in fat-deposition processes of migratory passerines. We report the results of a large-scale field experiment complemented by a captivity experiment, aimed at testing the effects of the availability of simple carbohydrates and water on fuel deposition rates of autumn-migrating passerines in the northern Negev of Israel. We found that in the main study site, Ein Rimon, where birds mostly consume fat-rich Atlantic pistachio (Pistacia atlantica) fruits, access to both water and sucrose solution resulted in faster body mass gain. Similar patterns were evident among captive Eurasian Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) subjected to the same nutritional conditions. Furthermore, supplementation with sucrose solution caused a significant reduction in the consumption of fruits by Eurasian Blackcaps, indicating that their preference for the fat-rich Atlantic pistachio fruits decreased when simple carbohydrates were available. Our results show that availability of simple carbohydrates can significantly accelerate fuel deposition rates in autumn-migrating passerines. We suggest that simple carbohydrates, dissolved in a solution (e.g., nectar), can be assimilated and absorbed faster than other food types and are therefore beneficial during the first days of stopover, when digestive capacity is reduced as a result of migration flight.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)534-546
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • bird migration
  • diet composition
  • stopover ecology


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