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Are birds stressed during long-term flights? A wind-tunnel study on circulating corticosterone in the red knot

  • Susanne Jenni-Eiermann
  • Dennis Hasselquist
  • Åke Lindström
  • Anita Koolhaas
  • Theunis Piersma
Publishing year: 2009
Language: English
Pages: 101-106
Publication/Series: General and Comparative Endocrinology
Volume: 164
Issue: 2-3
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Elsevier

Abstract english

During endurance flight most birds do not feed and have to rely on their body reserves. Fat and protein is catabolised to meet the high energetic demands. Even though the hormonal regulation of migration is complex and not yet fully understood. the adrenocortical hormone corticosterone crystallizes to play a major role in controlling physiological traits in migratory birds during flight. However, results from field studies are partially equivocal, not least because data from birds during endurance flight are hard to get and present mostly a momentary shot. A wind-tunnel experiment offered the possibility to measure repeatedly under controlled conditions the effect of long flights on the stress hormone corticosterone. In a long-distance migrating shorebird, the red knot Calidris canutus, we measured plasma concentrations of corticosterone within 3 min and after a restraint time of 30 min directly after 2 h and 10 h non-stop flights, respectively, and during rest. Baseline corticosterone levels were unchanged directly after the flights, indicating that endurance flight did not affect corticosterone levels. The adrenocortical response to restraint showed the typical rise in birds during rest, while birds after a 2 or 10 h flight substantially decreased plasma corticosterone concentrations. We suggest that the negative adrenocortical response to restraint after flight is part of the mechanism to reduce the proteolytic effect of corticosterone to save muscle protein and to avoid muscle damaging effects. (C) 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Biological Sciences
  • Ecology
  • Stress response
  • Corticosterone
  • Migration
  • Wind-tunnel
  • Endurance
  • flight


  • Centre for Animal Movement Research
  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 0016-6480
Dennis Hasselquist
E-mail: dennis [dot] hasselquist [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se



+46 46 222 37 08



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Jacob Roved

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PhD Students, assistant supervisor


Interview about my research in the Swedish podcast "Forskarn & jag"