Energy Metabolism During Endurance Flight and the Post-Flight Recovery Phase

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2017 Jul;203(6-7):431-438. doi: 10.1007/s00359-017-1150-3. Epub 2017 Feb 21.


Migrating birds are known to fly non-stop for thousands of kilometres without food or water intake and at a high metabolic rate thereby relying on energy stores which were built up preceding a flight bout. Hence, from a physiological point of view the metabolism of a migrant has to switch between an active fasting phase during flight and a fuelling phase during stopover. To meet the energetic and water requirements of endurance flight, migratory birds have to store an optimal fuel composition and they have to be able to quickly mobilize and deliver sufficient energy to the working flight muscles. After flight, birds have to recover from a strenuous exercise and sleeplessness, but, at the same time, they have to be alert to escape from predators and to prepare the next flight bout. In this overview, metabolic adaptations of free-ranging migrants to both phases will be presented and compared with results from windtunnel studies. The questions whether migratory strategy (long distance versus short distance) and diet composition influence the metabolic pathways will be discussed.

Keywords: Diet; Endurance exercise; Fat metabolism; Postexercise ketosis; Postexercise recovery.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animal Migration
  • Animals
  • Birds / metabolism*
  • Diet
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*