Drinking water boosts food intake rate, body mass increase and fat accumulation in migratory blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla)

Ido Tsurim, Nir Sapir, Jonathan Belmaker, Itai Shanni, Ido Izhaki, Michał S. Wojciechowski, William H. Karasov, Berry Pinshow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fat accumulation by blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) is a prerequisite for successful migratory flight in the autumn and has recently been determined to be constrained by availability of drinking water. Birds staging in a fruit-rich Pistacia atlantica plantation that had access to water increased their body mass and fat reserves both faster and to a greater extent than birds deprived of water. We conducted a series of laboratory experiments on birds captured during the autumn migration period in which we tested the hypotheses that drinking water increases food use by easing limitations on the birds' dietary choices and, consequently, feeding and food processing rates, and that the availability of drinking water leads to improved digestion and, therefore, to higher apparent metabolizable energy. Blackcaps were trapped in autumn in the Northern Negev Desert, Israel and transferred to individual cages in the laboratory. Birds were provided with P. atlantica fruit and mealworms, and had either free access to water (controls) or were water-deprived. In experiment 1, in which mealworm availability was restricted, water-deprived birds had a fourfold lower fruit and energy intake rates and, consequently, gained less fat and total mass than control birds. Water availability did not affect food metabolizability. In experiment 2, in which mealworms were provided ad libitum, water availability influenced the birds' diet: water-restricted birds ate more mealworms, while control birds consumed mainly P. atlantica fruit. Further, in experiment 2, fat and mass gain did not differ between the two treatment groups. We conclude that water availability may have important consequences for fat accumulation in migrating birds while they fatten at stopover sites, especially when water-rich food is scarce. Restricted water availability may also impede the blackcap's dietary shift from insectivory to frugivory, a shift probably necessary for successful pre-migratory fattening.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-30
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Diet shift
  • Fruit
  • Metabolizability
  • Pistacia atlantica
  • Stopover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Drinking water boosts food intake rate, body mass increase and fat accumulation in migratory blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this