A perennial question in ornithology is whether flight has evolved mostly to facilitate access to food or as an anti-predator strategy. However, flight is an expensive mode of locomotion and species using flight regularly are associated with an expensive lifestyle. Using heart rate (HR) data loggers implanted in 13 female common eiders (Somateria mollissima), our objective was to test the hypothesis that a high level of flight activity increases their energy budget. We used the long-term recording (seven months) of HR as an index of energy expenditure and the HR flight signature to compile all flight events. Our results indicate that the eider is one of the thriftiest volant birds with only 10 minutes of flight time per day. Consequently, we were not able to detect any effect of flight activity on their energy budget despite very high flight costs (123–149 W), suggesting that flight was controlled by energy budget limitations. However, the low flight activity of that species may also be related to their prey landscape requiring few or no large-scale movements. Nevertheless, we suggest that the (fitness) benefits of keeping flight ability in this species exceed the costs by allowing a higher survival in relation to predation and environmental harshness.
Keywords: common eider, daily heart rate, data logger, energy budget, flight costs, flight behaviour