Current models to estimate daily energy expenditure (DEE) for free-living birds are limited to either those that use fixed thermoregulatory costs or those that more accurately estimate thermoregulatory costs, but require extensive and often logistically difficult measurements. Here, we propose a model based on basal metabolic rate (BMR), activity budgets, and site-specific energetic costs of thermoregulation that requires only simple measures of ambient temperature and wind speed to provide estimates of DEE. We use the model to calculate the DEE of Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) wintering at six habitats that afford differing degrees of protection from exposure within Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Bufflehead activity budget data collected during the winters of 2001–2002 and 2002–2003, along with average temperatures and wind speeds at the sites, were used to calculate DEE that ranged from 46.9 to 52.4 kJ/hr and increased with increasing wind speed. The energetic cost of thermoregulation composed as much as 28% of total DEE and increased with wind speed. Our DEE values were 13.4% higher, and thermoregulatory costs were up to 2× higher than those calculated using an existing model that incorporates fixed thermoregulatory costs. We also saw an increase in feeding activity with increasing wind speed; sensitivity analysis of the effects of wind speed and feeding activity showed that a 1 m/sec increase in wind speed at our sites increased DEE by 2.5%, whereas a corresponding increase in feeding activity increased DEE by 4.5%. This suggests that in temperate winter habitats, increased feeding activity may have a greater impact on Bufflehead DEE than wind exposure. Site-specific model estimates of DEE could also provide additional insight into the relative contribution of environmental conditions and changes in waterfowl behavior to DEE.
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