We simultaneously monitored the heart rate and behavior of nine free-living Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons) on their wintering grounds in northern California. Heart rates of wild geese were monitored via abdominally-implanted radio transmitters with electrodes that received electrical impulses of the heart and emitted a radio signal with each ventricular contraction. Post-operative birds appeared to behave normally, readily rejoining flocks and flying up to 15 km daily from night-time roost sites to feed in surrounding agricultural fields. Heart rates varied significantly among individuals and among behaviors, and ranged from less than 100 beats per minute (BPM) during resting, to over 400 BPM during flight. Heart rates varied from 80 to 140 BPM during non-strenuous activities such as walking, feeding, and maintenance activities, to about 180 BPM when birds became alert, and over 400 BPM when birds were startled, even if they did not take flight. Postflight heart rate recovery time averaged < 10 sec. During agonistic encounters, heart rate exceeded 400 BPM; heart rates during social interactions were not predictable solely from postures, as heart rates were context-dependent, and were highest in initial encounters among individuals. Instantaneous measures of physiological parameters, such as heart rate, are often better indicators of the degree of response to external stimuli than visual observations and can be used to improve estimates of energy expenditure based solely on activity data.
Additional publication details
Behavioral correlates of heart rates of free-living Greater White-fronted Geese