Diet preferences of warblers for specific fatty acids in relation to nutritional requirements and digestive capabilities
Date of Original Version
During energy-demanding periods of the annual cycle such as migration or during cold days in winter, birds store fat comprised mostly of 16- or 18-carbon unsaturated fatty acids. In such situations, birds may feed selectively on foods with specific fatty acids that enable efficient fat deposition. We offered wild-caught yellow-rumped warblers Dendroica coronata paired choices between semi-synthetic diets that differed only in their fatty acid composition. Warblers strongly preferred diets containing long-chain (18:1; carbon atoms:double bonds) unsaturated, unesterified fatty acids to diets containing long-chain saturated, unesterified fatty acids (18:0) and they preferred diets containing mono-unsaturated fats (18:1) to diets containing poly-unsaturated fats (18:2). The preference for diets containing long-chain unsaturated fatty acids to diets containing long-chain saturated fatty acids was consistent in birds tested one week after capture at 21°C, one month after capture when cold-acclimated (1°C), and six weeks after capture at 21°C. Birds acclimated to a diet with 50% of the fat comprised of unesterified stearic acid (18:0) lost mass and reduced their food intake when we reduced ambient temperature from 21°C to 11°C over three days. We conclude that especially in energy-demanding situations there are limits to the yellow-rumped warblers' ability to assimilate some long-chain saturated fatty acids and that this digestive constraint can explain in part why yellow-rumped warblers prefer diets containing long-chain unsaturated fatty acids to diets containing long-chain saturated fatty acids.
Publication Title, e.g., Journal
Journal of Avian Biology
McWilliams, Scott R., Shannon B. Kearney, and William H. Karasov. "Diet preferences of warblers for specific fatty acids in relation to nutritional requirements and digestive capabilities." Journal of Avian Biology 33, 2 (2002). doi: 10.1034/j.1600-048X.2002.330207.x.