Dynamics of food availability, body condition and physiological stress response in breeding Black-legged Kittiwakes



1. The seasonal dynamics of body condition (BC), circulating corticosterone levels (baseline, BL) and the adrenocortical response to acute stress (SR) were examined in long-lived Black-legged Kittiwakes, Rissa tridactyla, breeding at Duck (food-poor colony) and Gull (food-rich colony) Islands in lower Cook Inlet, Alaska. It was tested whether the dynamics of corticosterone levels reflect a seasonal change in bird physiological condition due to reproduction and/or variation in foraging conditions.

2. BC declined seasonally, and the decline was more pronounced in birds at the food-poor colony. BL and SR levels of corticosterone rose steadily through the reproductive season, and BL levels were significantly higher in birds on Duck Island compared with those on Gull Island. During the egg-laying and chick-rearing stages, birds had lower SR on Duck Island than on Gull Island.

3. The results suggest that, in addition to a seasonal change in bird physiology during reproduction, local ecological factors such as food availability affect circulating levels of corticosterone and adrenal response to acute stress.