The mean annual rainfall of Barrow Island, located about 90 km north of Onslow off the arid Western Australian coast, is 324 mm, 74% of which falls as cyclonic rain between February and May. Spinifexbirds captured in May 1992 had a mean body mass of 12.3 +/- 0.3 g and a total body water content (TBW) of 774 +/- 1.6%. In December 1992 the mean body mass was significantly lower (11.7 +/- 0.2 g; P <0.05), despite a TBW of 73.4 +/- 1.0%. Spinifexbirds maintained water balance in both seasons, but water flux rates were significantly higher in May (P = 0.01). Respective influx and efflux rates in May were 0.70 +/- 0.30 and 0.72 +/- 0.03 mL (g day)(-1) compared with 0.60 +/- 0.04 and 0.57 +/- 0.04 mL (g day)(-1) in December. Field metabolic rates (FMRs), measured with doubly-labelled water ((3)HH(18)0), did not differ significantly between the two periods. The mean FMR in May was 6.8 +/- 0.6 mL CO2 (g h)(-1) compared with 7.2 +/- 0.9 mL CO2 (g h)(-1) in December, similar to rates predicted by Nagy and Peterson (1988) for a similar-sized passerine. The thermoneutral zone (TNZ) of spinifexbirds, determined by metabolic laboratory trials in December, extended from 30 to 39 degrees C. The standard metabolic rate (SMR) within the TNZ was 2.9 +/- 0.1 mL O-2 (g h)(-1), which is up to 20% lower than predicted values. Body temperature was maintained at 39.1 degrees C in the TNZ, but birds became hyperthermic at ambient temperatures (T(a)s) higher than 35 degrees C, with body temperatures reaching 44 degrees C. Wet thermal conductance and evaporative water loss increased markedly at T(a)s > 35 degrees C. The data suggest that spinifexbirds have limited physiological adaptations to desert conditions compared with some other arid-zone birds.