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Gen Comp Endocrinol. 1989 Jul;75(1):148-56.

Hormonal correlates of migration and territorial behavior in juvenile willow tits during autumn.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.


This study compared plasma levels of dihydrotestosterone, testosterone, corticosterone, luteinizing hormone, growth hormone, and prolactin in migrating juvenile willow tits with those in territorial juveniles. Both categories of birds were caught in late September. Migrating juveniles had higher plasma levels of corticosterone than territorial juveniles. Only corticosterone secretion was affected by "handling stress" in both migrating and territorial juveniles. However, territorial birds showed a much stronger relationship between these two variables. It is suggested that high corticosterone levels are involved in the emigration of juveniles out of the coniferous forest. Only juveniles were found among the migrating willow tits, and these birds were not well adapted for migration. Migrating juvenile males had less fat stored than did territorial ones. Furthermore, migrating juvenile males had higher liver/somatic index and higher plasma levels of growth hormone than did territorial males. These results indicate that migrating males had been, or were, exposed to food restrictions. The same proportion of migrating and territorial juveniles, males as well as females, had high plasma levels of testosterone. We suggest that these high levels were caused by recent aggressive interactions. To test the hypothesis that high plasma levels of testosterone are important for a juvenile to become a member of a territorial winter group, we performed a field experiment in which juveniles were given testosterone implants (controls were given empty silastic tubes) at the beginning of the territorial establishment period. The same proportion of testosterone-implanted birds and control birds succeeded in becoming members of territorial winter groups. Thus, testosterone does not seem to play an essential role in autumn territoriality, and it does not prevent autumn migration.

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