Burrow use by Tibetan Ground Tits Pseudopodoces humilis: coping with life at high altitudes
The Tibetan Ground Tit Pseudopodoces humilis is a high-altitude passerine endemic to the Tibetan Plateau. A 4-year study in alpine meadows in Northern Tibet at 4300 m asl demonstrated that rather than using Pika Ochotona spp. holes as previously reported, the birds excavated one nest burrow themselves in spring and another after breeding, which they used for roosting in winter. Both the nesting and winter-roosting burrows comprised a straight tunnel leading to an ellipsoid chamber. There were no significant differences in placement or structural characteristics between the two types of burrows, except that winter-roosting burrows had a significantly smaller entrance diameter. Most burrows were 100–160 cm long and their chambers 20–40 cm deep. Tibetan Ground Tits tended to maximize the thermal benefits of their burrows by adjusting their spatial and structural characteristics in response to local solar radiation and wind regimes. Burrows tended to be oriented towards the sun and away from prevailing winds, presumably to maintain burrow temperature. Longer tunnels could function to save heat from solar radiation or reduce wind-disturbance, while shorter tunnels allow chambers to be warmed sooner in situations where wind potentially reduced soil temperatures. The thermal benefits to the birds of burrow architecture are likely to play a crucial role throughout the year in these extreme alpine environments.