Elevated testosterone advances onset of migratory restlessness in a nearctic-neotropical landbird

Jennifer C. Owen
Mary C. Garvin
Frank R. Moore, University of Southern Mississippi


The primary cue for initiation of spring migratory restlessness (Zugunruhe) in landbird migrants is photoperiod. Gonadal hormones are known to have a role in the regulation of migratory disposition; however, the extent of their effect is not well understood. We examined the impact of exogenous testosterone on the onset of migratory restlessness in gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis). Catbirds were stratified by sex and randomly assigned to two rooms; individuals in one room were photoadvanced to initiate migratory restlessness and the other room was maintained on a 12:12 light/dark photoperiod. Each room had three groups (n = 10/group); males with testosterone implants, males with empty implants, and females. We predicted that in the photoadvanced room males with testosterone implants would initiate migratory activity earlier than empty-implanted males. We found that in the photoadvanced group, testosterone-implanted males initiated migration 2 weeks prior to empty-implanted males, and 3 weeks prior to females. In the non-photoadvanced males, the testosterone-implanted males initiated migration at the same time as the corresponding group in the photoadvanced room, while the empty-implanted males and females did not exhibit Zugunruhe. Our results illustrate that elevated testosterone can advance the onset of Zugunruhe, even in the absence of an extended photoperiod. Additionally, the onset of migratory restlessness observed in the photoadvanced, non-testosterone-implanted males and females further supports the importance of photoperiod as a cue for migratory restlessness. An interesting observation was the intersexual differences in the onset of migratory activity in gray catbirds, a species not previously known to exhibit protandry.