Relative Efficiency of Fecal Versus Regurgitated Samples for Assessing Diet and the Deleterious Effects of a Tartar Emetic on Migratory Birds

Document Type


Publication Date





We describe the deleterious effects of using an antimony potassium tartrate emetic to obtain diet samples from birds, and compare information obtained from regurgitated samples versus fecal samples in describing diets of autumn migrants. We also examined dose effectiveness in captive Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) subjected to the same emetic technique used in the field. Over 70% of migrants given an emetic at a study site in Idaho regurgitated useful samples. For 5 of 7 species analyzed, regurgitated samples produced significantly more arthropods per sample than fecal samples, and one species, Warbling Vireo, showed higher numbers of distinct arthropod taxa per sample. In most species, regurgitated samples accumulated arthropod taxa more quickly than fecal samples. However, increasing the number of fecal samples by 5–17 produced a similar number of taxa. Diet composition based on fecal versus regurgitated samples was generally similar, but there were significant differences. Two of 130 treated migrants died soon after treatment. Recapture frequency for treated birds was less than half that for untreated birds, but it is not clear whether this difference was due to treatment-related mortality or emigration. Each treated bird that we recaptured had lost mass and this suggests a deleterious effect because untreated migrants tended to gain mass. In captivity, 18 Dark-eyed Juncos were treated with emetic: 6 with the full mass-specific recommended dose, 6 with half the recommended dose, and the final 6 with one quarter the recommended dose. All were alive 15–20 min posttreatment (recommended release time), but 17 of 18 died within 30 min after receiving the emetic. Together, our data suggest that although the emetic technique may be slightly more information-rich in assessing diet, it is more harmful than previously reported especially in certain species and should be used only after adequate consideration of the immediate mortality and short-term physiological effects on birds to be studied.