The lack of a truly satisfactory sensor which can characterize the thermal environment at the spatial scale experienced by small endotherms has hindered study of their thermoregulatory behavior. We describe a general design for a rugged, easily constructed sensor to measure standard operative temperature, Tes. We present specific designs for adult dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) and hatchling mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). Sensor response was stable and repeatable (??1.4%) over the course of several months. Over the range of conditions for which validation data were available (variable air temperature and wind with negligible net radiation), sensors predicted the mean net heat production of live animals to within ??0.023W (equivalent to ??1??C at Tes= 15??C). The main limit on accuracy was scatter in the data on metabolism and evaporative water loss in live animals. These sensors are far more rugged and easily constructed than the heated taxidermic mounts previously used to measure Tes. These characteristics facilitate the use of significant numbers of sensors in thermal mapping studies of endotherms. ?? 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.