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Horm Behav. 2008 Jan;53(1):208-16. Epub 2007 Oct 11.

Corticosterone excretion patterns and affiliative behavior over development in ravens (Corvus corax).

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Konrad Lorenz Research Station, Grünau 11, A 4645 Grünau, Austria.


Averse effects of social stress may be buffered by the presence of social allies, which mainly has been demonstrated in mammals and recently also in birds. However, effects of socio-positive behavior prior to fledging in relation to corticosterone excretion in altricial birds have not been investigated yet. We here monitored corticosterone excretion patterns in three groups of hand raised juvenile ravens (n=5, 6 and 11) in the nest, post-fledging (May-July) and when ravens would be independent from their parents (September-November). We related these corticosterone excretion patterns to socio-positive behavior. Behavioral data were collected via focal sampling in each developmental period considered. We analyzed amounts of excreted immunoreactive corticosterone metabolites (CM) using enzyme immuno assays. We collected fecal samples in each developmental period considered and evaluated the most appropriate assay via an isolation stress experiment. Basal CM was significantly higher during the nestling period than post-fledging or when birds were independent. The time nestlings spent allopreening correlated negatively with mean CM. Post-fledging, individuals with higher CM levels sat close to (distance <50 cm) conspecifics more frequently and tended to preen them longer. When birds were independent and a stable rank hierarchy was established, dominant individuals were preened significantly longer than subordinates. These patterns observed in ravens parallel those described for primates, which could indicate that animal species living in a complex social environment may deal with social problems in a similar way that is not restricted to mammals or primates.

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