Starvation in 15 geese (mean initial body mass, m = 6.3 kg) fasting for about 40 days (mean decrease in m = 2.5 kg) was characterized by three periods. Period I (3-8 days), an adaptation period, was marked by a considerable decrease in the daily rate of change in m (dm) as well as in resting metabolic rate (RMR), and by high fat mobilization. In period II (a period of economy) the decreases in dm, RMR, and daily rate of nitrogen excretion (dne) were reduced: when expressed per unit of body mass these rates were either constant or decreased slightly. Period III, a critical period, was characterized by a rapid increase in both dm and dne that appeared when body mass had dropped to 4.7-3.2 kg. In parallel there was a greater decrease in intracellular fluid volume below 5 kg. Throughout the fast, in contrast to fasting mammals, plasma glucose and alanine concentrations were maintained at high levels (8-10 and 0.4 mM, respectively), and there was no increase in acetoacetate. However, after 20 days of fasting, plasma beta-hydroxybutyrate concentration (beta-OHB) increased to about 20 mM, while blood pH remained constant and blood PCO2 decreased. Thus, compensation for metabolic acidosis was partly attributed to respiratory alkalosis. Throughout the fast, the variations in beta-OHB were a mirror image of those for daily changes in body mass and in nitrogen excretion. This presumably reflects a hormonal change, but might also suggest a key role of beta-OHB in the control of energy expenditure and/or in regulation of body mass as well as in protein sparing.