Patterns of breeding behaviour and plasma levels of hormones in a free-living population of Pied flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca

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Abstract

Plasma levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and steroid hormones were measured by radioimmunoassay in a series of plasma samples collected from a free-living population of Pied flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca. Both males and females have similar circulating levels of LH and testosterone when they arrive in the breeding area. However, as territories and pair bonds are established, and as courtship and nest-building ensue, the plasma levels of testosterone in males become elevated over those of females, although a lesser peak also occurs in females. As the egg laying phase and incubation begin, plasma levels of LH and testosterone decline sharply in both sexes. On the other hand polyterritorial males, that establish secondary territories, maintain higher levels of LH and testosterone than males remaining in the home-territory, at least until they return to the home-territory, usually at the middle part of the incubation period. By this time polyterritorial males also have basal levels of these hormones. Curiously, females on home-territories show a small, but significant, rise of circulating LH and testosterone at the time the males return.

In males, plasma levels of corticosterone are elevated from the time of arrival on the breeding grounds until the end of the nest-building period. Thereafter corticosterone levels decline in males staying on the home-territory but remain elevated in polyterritorial males until the latter return to the home-territory. In contrast, circulating levels of corticosterone in females are only elevated for brief period during egg laying.

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