Corticosterone levels correlate in wild-grown and lab-grown feathers in greenfinches (Carduelis chloris) and predict behaviour and survival in captivity.


Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Vanemuise 46, 51014 Tartu, Estonia. Electronic address: [Email]


Level of corticosterone (CORT), which is a predominant glucocorticoid in birds, has become the main indicator for assessing the stress level of birds in ecological studies. Feather corticosterone (CORTf) provides information about corticosterone levels during feather growth, however, the underlying causes of individual variation of CORTf between individuals and individual persistency of CORTf are not yet fully understood. Therefore, this study addresses individual consistency in CORTf and the association of variation in CORTf with behaviour that results in damage to tail feathers. We studied relations between CORTf, plasma CORT, and behaviour in wild-caught male greenfinches in captivity. CORTf in wild-grown feathers correlated positively with CORTf in lab-grown feathers. CORTf levels were about 20% lower in lab-grown feathers than in those grown in the wild. Four birds that died in captivity had significantly higher average CORTf levels in wild-grown feathers than the survivors. Plasma CORT levels of two measurements taken in the lab seven days apart correlated positively, however, no correlations between plasma CORT and CORTf were found. In order to study the link between CORTf and behaviour, the extent of tail damage from flapping against cage bar was assessed. Contrary to our prediction, birds with higher CORTf had less tail damage. This study adds to the evidence that CORTf levels can be considered as informative markers of some persistent component of individual phenotypic quality that can predict survival under standardized laboratory conditions.


Birds,Feather corticosterone,Plasma corticosterone,Stress,Stress hormones,

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