Corticosterone levels in relation to migratory readiness in red-eyed vireos (Vireo olivaceus)
We examined the relationship between plasma levels of corticosterone and the migratory activity and directional preference of red-eyed vireos during fall migration at the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Corticosterone is thought to play a role in physiological and behavioural processes before, during, and after long-distance migratory flights. An increase in corticosterone at the onset of migratory flights can be expected in birds that are energetically prepared to migrate in a seasonally appropriate southerly direction. Red-eyed vireos (Vireo olivaceus) were tested in orientation cages under clear twilight skies. Just prior to the orientation experiments, blood was sampled to assay baseline corticosterone levels. Average corticosterone level for all birds was 22.8 ng/ml. Red-eyed vireos with higher than average baseline levels of corticosterone were significantly more active in orientation cages compared to birds with lower levels of corticosterone. Moreover, birds with higher than average levels oriented in a southwesterly direction, which is consistent with a trans-Gulf flight, whereas individuals with levels below average showed a NNW mean direction. Although there was no significant difference in baseline levels of corticosterone between fat and lean birds, individual mass loss between capture and test was negatively correlated with corticosterone levels. Results from this study clearly demonstrate that corticosterone influences departure decisions and the choice of direction during migration.