Changes in plasma hormone levels correlate with fledging in nestling Leach’s storm-petrels

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Leach’s storm-petrels accumulate large amounts of body mass throughout the nestling period. Approximately 4 days before fledging, nestlings weigh 50–100% more than adults. In order to shed this excess mass, nestlings engage in behavioral anorexia, and leave the burrow when they are light enough to fly. During this prefledging period, we measured several plasma hormones (corticosterone, thyroxine, andtestosterone) to determine whether the behavioral changes associated with fledging are correlated withendocrine changes. In several species, including petrels, corticosterone levels are known to increase near fledging. Reduced food consumption has been shown to elevate corticosterone levels and decrease thyroxine levels in nestling birds. In nestling storm-petrels, levels of both corticosterone and thyroxine increased. Storm-petrels were found to secrete measurable levels of testosterone, but levels did not change during the prefledging period. Increased corticosterone levels might be part of an endocrine signal that initiates changes in feeding behavior, or may result from reduced food intake. Elevated thyroxine levels may be related to metabolic changes involved in mass loss. Future experimental work is needed to ascertain whether the described endocrine changes are responsible for, or result from, prefledging changes in petrel feeding behavior.


General And Comparative Endocrinology



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