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Horm Behav. 2004 Dec;46(5):574-81.

Plasma corticosterone increases during migratory restlessness in the captive white-crowned sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelli.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Plasma corticosterone increases during the period of spring migration in a variety of bird species. Long-distance migrants show elevations in corticosterone specifically in association with the stage of flight, suggesting that corticosterone may support flight-related processes, for example, locomotor activity and/or energy mobilization. The pattern of corticosterone secretion as it relates to migratory flight has hitherto not been clearly described in migrants that frequently interrupt flight to refuel, for example, the Gambel's white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii). The Gambel's white-crowned sparrow fuels by day and expresses peak migratory activity during the first few hours of night. To determine if plasma corticosterone increases in association with the stage of migratory flight also in this short-bout migrant, we induced captive white-crowned sparrows to enter into the migratory condition by placing photosensitive birds on long days (16L:8D) and then evaluated birds for plasma corticosterone and locomotor activity during four time points of the day. Patterns found in long-day birds were compared to those observed in short-day controls (8L:16D). Differences in energy metabolism as determined from plasma metabolites were also evaluated. We found that locomotor activity and corticosterone were significantly elevated at the onset of the dark period, but only in long-day birds. Plasma beta-hydroxybutyrate (a ketone body) was also elevated. Thus, findings suggest that plasma corticosterone and ketogenesis increase in association with migratory restlessness in a short-bout migrant. In fact, corticosterone may play a regulatory role, because it shows a trend to increase already before night-time activity.

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