Winter swallows and torpor

Mike Patterson celata at pacifier.com
Mon Jan 21 18:39:36 PST 2002


The ability to go into a hypothermic state is termed
torpor.  It is well documented in hummingbirds.  Rufous 
Hummingbird in a torpid state uses about 7% of the energy
it was use in an active state.  Anna's Hummingbirds also
routinely enter torpor.

According to Turner and Rose (1989):
"In very bad weather, some species can save energy by
becoming hypothermic or torpid and huddling together;
expample include Sand Martins [Bank Swallows], White-
backed Swallows, and House Martin."


Eugene Hunn wrote:
> 
> Tweets,
> 
> One other possibility to account for the mid-winter Barn Swallow mystery,
> perhaps fanciful, is that they "hibernate," waking up to fly around and feed
> a bit when the weather is particularly nice. This was fairly recently
> demonstrated for Poorwills, who were found in a state of "suspended
> animation" in mid-winter in southern Oregon. It may be true for hummingbirds
> and swifts. I understand this is not true hibernation, but a state of
> semi-dormancy. Perhaps the Barn Swallows were snoozing happily in some
> sheltered spot all along?
> 
> Gene.
> 
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Ruth Sullivan" <godwit at worldnet.att.net>
> To: <tweeters at u.washington.edu>
> Sent: Monday, January 21, 2002 9:39 AM
> Subject: Fw: Winter swallows and other passerines
> 
> >
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: Joel Geier <jgeier at attglobal.net>
> > To: Obol <obol at lists.orst.edu>
> > Sent: Monday, January 21, 2002 9:38 AM
> > Subject: Re: Winter swallows and other passerines
> >
> >
> > > Hello OBOlers,
> > >
> > > This has been an interesting discussion, and I have not
> > > noticed anyone trying to claim that there is a single,
> > > simple answer to the puzzle.
> > >
> > > In the interest of avoiding oversimplification, I suggest we
> > > should disabuse ourselves of the notion that there is
> > > "nothing special" about this year's weather.  The average
> > > daily low temperature data I cited yesterday show that this
> > > is one of the six mildest winters in the mid-Willamette
> > > Valley, out of the past 40 years.  Beyond that, there has
> > > not been even a single day of sustained freezing weather --
> > > the lowest daily high temperature so far at Corvallis
> > > (Hyslop field station) was 39 deg F.
> > >
> > > In other words, this is clearly a notably (if not
> > > freakishly) mild winter.  While I agree with Dave Irons and
> > > Phil Pickering that this may not be a primary cause for
> > > unusual birds to show up in our area, it certainly needs to
> > > be considered when pondering why unusual birds are being
> > > observed.
> > >
> > > As Irons points out, the reason why various passerine
> > > species have occurred in our area likely varies from species
> > > to species.  Some like the Hermit Warblers are presumably
> > > lingering birds (or birds whose migration from a bit farther
> > > north in their breeding range was for some reason
> > > abbreviated).  The eastern vagrants may have shown up here
> > > due to a flip of their "magnetic compasses."  The Barn
> > > Swallows might be getting pushed north into our area on
> > > sustained southerly winds -- well, maybe.  All of these are
> > > fine explanations (some more speculative than others) as to
> > > why these birds arrived or simply stayed here.
> > >
> > > Irons rightly points out that "year-to-year weather patterns
> > > probably affect nothing other than the survival rates" of
> > > semi-hardy passerines.  I would add that weather patterns
> > > also affect detection rates:  To be observed well into the
> > > winter months, the birds first need to survive.  That's
> > > leaving aside the intangible effect of weather on observer
> > > activity.
> > >
> > > In the same vein, Steve Mlodinow points out, "When a Barn
> > > Swallow wanders a thousand miles north of its normal winter
> > > range, it is in a very tenuous position. It is hard to
> > > imagine that these birds are not doomed."  Unless, of
> > > course, they find that unusually mild temperatures have kept
> > > an adequate supply of their usual forage on hand.
> > >
> > > Regarding the "pineapple express" theory for Barn Swallow
> > > occurrence, the absence of Violet-green Swallow reports and
> > > sparseness (within normal ranges) of Tree Swallow reports
> > > does raise some problems.  As Mlodinow suggests, one might
> > > logically expect these more northerly wintering swallows to
> > > be pushed north by the same prevailing winds, and to arrive
> > > in numbers ahead of the more southerly wintering Barn
> > > Swallows.
> > >
> > > Let me throw out another word: DISPERSION.  When a
> > > population of birds starts to move north (with or without
> > > the help of prevailing winds), a few birds generally arrive
> > > well in advance of the main horde, and then we see a steep
> > > ramp-up as the main population arrives.  Think of the spring
> > > arrival of Violet-green Swallows -- for a few days we get
> > > scattered reports, and then suddenly, one day they seem to
> > > be everywhere.
> > >
> > > A similar phenomenon is seen in the study of how chemicals,
> > > colloids, bacteria etc. spread out as they migrate along
> > > with groundwater currents.  In that field the process is
> > > called "dispersion" (Probability freaks may be entertained
> > > to know that the shape of the curve is the classical
> > > Gaussian error function).  Mathematically it can be shown
> > > this phenomenon is the natural outcome of combining small,
> > > random movements of itty-bitty things (whether birds or
> > > bacteria) in a prevailing current (water flow, prevailing
> > > winds, or the "migratorial urge").
> > >
> > > I would argue that what we have seen so far does not look
> > > like anything like the "dispersion front" associated with a
> > > northward movement of a Barn Swallows population.  Apart
> > > from two instances of small flocks (8 birds and 15 birds,
> > > each seen on one day only), all other sightings have been of
> > > 3 birds or fewer.  If a sizeable population is being pushed
> > > north, at some point we should see more than the dispersed
> > > fringe, but it hasn't happened yet.  Here in Oregon, the
> > > Yaquina Bay flock on 5 Jan was not followed by numerous
> > > flocks in the following week.  Instead we went back to the
> > > pattern of a few individuals seen here or there, which had
> > > been the pattern through most of December.
> > >
> > > If tomorrow we start getting reports of Barn Swallows
> > > everywhere in western Oregon, that would add some credence
> > > to the northward-drift theory -- but we haven't seen that
> > > yet.
> > >
> > > I would also argue that a bit of a reality check is called
> > > for regarding the "sudden occurrence" of Barn Swallows.
> > > There have been a few unsupported statements made about
> > > this, e.g.: "After an apparent absence in late Fall and most
> > > of December these birds have suddenly appeared."  This seems
> > > to be based more on sudden attention to Barn Swallow
> > > sightings since those notable flocks in Newport and Everett
> > > were reported, than on a full consideration of sightings in
> > > the early part of the winter.
> > >
> > > If you look at a nominally unbiased record of sightings
> > > since late fall, the grounds for such statements are rather
> > > scant.  Here's the full set of actual & possible Barn
> > > Swallow reports from the "OBOL reporting area," since the
> > > tail end of fall migration:
> > >
> > >  Date   No.   Place (observer)
> > > 29 Oct   1    Scravel Hill pond, Albany area (Marcia
> > > Cutler).
> > >  1 Nov   5    Ankeny NWR south of Salem (Roy Gerig)
> > >  2 Nov   8+   Ankeny NWR (Jeff Harding)
> > >  9 Nov   1    Barn near Ankeny (Stuart Sparkman)
> > > early Dec "several"   Monmouth, OR (Maggie Meikle)
> > > 11 Dec   2    Smith & Bybee Lakes, Portland (David Bailey)
> > > 14 Dec   2    Smith & Bybee Lakes, Portland (Tom Ewert)
> > > 17 Dec   1(*)  Fern Ridge Reservoir (fide Harry Nehls)
> > > 28 Dec   1    "regular" at Hansen NWR (Mike Patterson)
> > > 30 Dec   1    Hansen NWR (Mike Patterson, Russ Copenheim)
> > >  3 Jan   1    Near Shedd, mid-Willamette Valley
> > >  5 Jan   8    Yaquina Bay South Jetty (where did they go?)
> > >  6 Jan   3    Livermore Rd., Polk Co.
> > > 13 Jan   1+   Steigerwald NWR, WA  (Pamela Johnston)
> > > 14 Jan   1    Monmouth, OR    (Maggie Meikle)
> > > 14 Jan   1    Amazon Cr, Fern Ridge area (Dave Brown)
> > >
> > > (*) Reported as "Swallow sp.," may not have been Barn
> > > Swallow.
> > >
> > > The only gap in the above is from 10 Nov to "early" December
> > > (whenever that might have been).  As I recall, that was a
> > > time of near-continuous rain in our area.  Was the level of
> > > birder activity comparable to that in the CBC season, or in
> > > the couple of weeks of relatively clear weather since then?
> > > And even if birders were out, might not swallows have been
> > > hunkered down somewhere or just plain missed, considering
> > > the rain?  Given that the numbers observed outside of that
> > > period have been scant (except the one flock), it seems
> > > probable that these few individuals could just have been
> > > missed during that period of rainy weather.  The fact that
> > > the Newport flock was seen on only one day illustrates that
> > > swallows can indeed hide from us.
> > >
> > > This is not to say the "pineapple express" theory might not
> > > be at least part of the explanation for why a few Barn
> > > Swallows are being observed.  However, I'd caution that the
> > > evidence of a dramatic change since the start of the year is
> > > exceedingly thin.  Let's wait and see what this week brings
> > > .... which I guess means going outside for a look!
> > >
> > > Good birding,
> > > Joel
> > >
> > > --
> > > Joel Geier
> > > jgeier at attglobal.net
> > >
> >
> >

-- 
Mike Patterson               When I despair, I remember
Astoria, OR                   that all through history 
celata at pacifier.com           the way of truth and love have always won.
                             There have been tyrants, and murderers,
                              and for a time they can seem invincible,
                              but in the end they always fall. 
                              Think of it...always.
                                                - Mahatma Gandhi 
 
http://www.pacifier.com/~mpatters/bird/bird.html


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