Salt intake and regulation in two passerine nectar drinkers : whitebellied sunbirds and New Holland honeyeaters

10 Apr 2013

Avian nectarivores face the dilemma of having to conserve salts while consuming large volumes of a dilute, electrolyte-deficient diet. This study evaluates the responses to salt solutions and the regulation of salt intake in whitebellied sunbirds (Cinnyris talatala) and New Holland honeyeaters (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae). Birds were first offered a choice of four sucrose diets, containing no salt or 25, 50 or 75 mM NaCl. The experiment was repeated using five sucrose concentrations (0.075 to 0.63 M) as the base solution. Both species ingested similar amounts of all diets when fed the concentrated base solutions. However, when birds had to increase their intake to obtain enough energy on the dilute sucrose diets, there was a general avoidance of the higher salt concentrations. Through this diet switching, birds maintained constant intakes of both sucrose and sodium; the latter may contribute to absorption of their sugar diets. A second, no-choice experiment was designed to elucidate the renal concentrating abilities of these two nectarivores, by feeding them 2 0.63 M sucrose containing 5-200 mM NaCl over a 4 h trial. In both species, cloacal fluid osmolalities increased with diet NaCl concentration, but honeyeaters tended to retain ingested Na+, while sunbirds excreted it. Comparison of Na+ and K+ concentrations in ureteral urine and cloacal fluid showed that K+, but not Na+, was reabsorbed in the lower intestine of both species. The kidneys of sunbirds and honeyeaters, like those of hummingbirds, are well suited to diluting urine; however they also appear to concentrate urine efficiently when necessary.