Validation of the Labeled-Water Method for Estimating Food Consumption in Nestling Herons


Accurate measurements of food consumption by young birds are of great value in a variety of ecological studies, but traditional measurement methods are problematic and prone to high error. In animals that obtain their water primarily through food, it is possible to estimate food consumption from measurements of water influx rate, using radioactively labeled water (3H2O), and diet water content. We evaluated that method by comparing actual food consumption with simultaneous estimates of food consumption based on the labeled-water method in captive-reared nestling Tricolored Herons (Egretta tricolor). There was good agreement. The average error in the isotope method was −2% (SD = 8%), and that difference was not statistically significant. An errors analysis indicated that the accuracy of this method is sensitive to determinations of dietary water content and animal body water content, and to estimates of rates of metabolic water production and unidirectional water vapor input.

The Auk