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Dynamics of heat transfer to cold eggs in incubating bantam hens and a black grouse

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Incubating birds transfer large amount of heat from the brood patch to the eggs during rewarming of cold eggs. If a vasoconstriction is present in the brood patch as in other parts of the body, it could possibly limit heat transfer to the eggs. To investigate this, heat transfer to water-circulated eggs was measured in incubating bantam hens (Gallus domesticus) and a black grouse hen (Lyrurus tetrix) during exposure to cold eggs. Egg temperature, egg surface temperature, heat production and cloacal temperature were also measured. At all levels of egg cooling, egg surface temperature and heat transfer to the eggs was stable throughout an exposure, except during resettling movements, which often changed egg surface temperature and the level of heart transfer. Egg surface temperature decreased linearly with egg temperature in both species, but was lower and more variable at low egg temperature in black grouse than in bantam hens. A higher proportion of the heat production was transferred to the eggs in the black grouse (corresponding to 109–118% of the increase above resting level) than previously reported in bantam hens. Clutch size did not affect this efficiency of heat transfer in black grouse. It is concluded that a vasoconstruction of the brood patch does not occur even under strong cold stress from the eggs. Heat transfer to the eggs is probably controlled more by behavioural adjustments than circulatory changes. An increase in brood patch blood flow probably occurs at relatively high egg temperature at the onset of egg rewarming. The efficiency of heat transfer, and thus the energetic cost of rewarming eggs, depends on the insulation of the bird and nest structure. The boreal/subarctic black grouse was able to reduce heat loss to the environment and transfer a higher proportion of its heat production to the eggs than the tropical bantam hen.

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arteriovenous anastomoses


heat production


heat transfer

T a :

ambient temperature

T b :

cloacal temperature

T brp :

brood patch temperature

T e :

egg temperature

T es :

egg surface temperature


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Tøien, Ø. Dynamics of heat transfer to cold eggs in incubating bantam hens and a black grouse. J Comp Physiol B 163, 182–188 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00261663

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Key words

  • Incubation
  • Thermoregulation
  • Brood patch
  • Vasoconstriction
  • Black grouse hen, Lyrurus tetrix