Many endotherms use torpor, saving energy by a controlled reduction of their body temperature and metabolic rate. Some species (e.g. arctic ground squirrels, hummingbirds) enter deep torpor, dropping their body temperature by 23–37°C, while others can only enter shallow torpor (e.g. pigeons, 3–10°C reduction). However, deep torpor in mammals can increase predation risk (unless animals are in burrows or caves), inhibit immune function and result in sleep deprivation, so even for species that can enter deep torpor, facultative shallow torpor might help balance energy savings with these potential costs. Deep torpor occurs in three avian orders, but the trade-offs of deep torpor in birds are unknown. Although the literature hints that some bird species (mousebirds and perhaps hummingbirds) can use both shallow and deep torpor, little empirical evidence of such an avian heterothermy spectrum within species exists. We infrared imaged three hummingbird species that are known to use deep torpor, under natural temperature and light cycles, to test whether they were also capable of shallow torpor. All three species used both deep and shallow torpor, often on the same night. Depending on the species, they used shallow torpor for 5–35% of the night. The presence of a heterothermic spectrum in these bird species indicates a capacity for fine-scale physiological and genetic regulation of avian torpid metabolism.

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