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Effects of male courtship and gonadal steroids on pair formation, egg-laying, and serum LH in Canvasback ducks (Aythya valisineria)

Authors

  • Cynthia K. Bluhm,

    1. Departments of Ecology and Animal Science, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, U.S.A.
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    • *Delta Waterfowl Research Station, RR1 Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, Canada R1N 3A1

  • R. E. Phillips,

    1. Departments of Ecology and Animal Science, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, U.S.A.
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  • W. H. Burke,

    1. Departments of Ecology and Animal Science, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, U.S.A.
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    • **Department of Poultry Science, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, U.S.A.

  • G. N. Gupta

    1. Departments of Ecology and Animal Science, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108, U.S.A.
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    • ‡Department of Medicine, The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, 525 E. 68th St. New York, New York 1002 1, U.S.A.


Abstract

The effects of social stimuli on the reproductive physiology of female birds have been widely studied. This study examined the endocrine and behavioural responses of female Canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria) to changes in the behavioural and endocrine states of the male, as signalled by his courtship displays. Male Canvasbacks exposed to female conspecifics exhibited a variety of courtship displays which increased significantly with testosterone administration. However, the testosterone-increased courtship displays of males did not increase female receptivity or serum LH, or stimulate reproductive development or egg-laying in unpaired females placed with them. Females confined in cubicles within a pen that held breeding pairs and a free-swimming flock had higher serum LH levels and laid more eggs than did females in cubicles in another pen without breeding pairs or a free-swimming flock. This suggests that social factors, such as vocalizations from a flock and breeding pairs, may increase serum LH and egg-laying in unpaired females. Oestradiol implants in female Canvasbacks did not elevate receptivity to courting drakes, nor did they stimulate pair formation, nesting activity, or egg-laying behaviour. Testosterone implants in drakes and oestradiol implants in females decreased serum LH in each group. These results show that increasing the amount of courtship is not adequate to stimulate pairing behaviour or increases in reproductive hormones. Thus, our results suggest that female receptivity to male courtship may be a key determinant of pair formation and consequent synchronization of the behaviour patterns between members of a pair of wild birds. Our results may further suggest a dissociation between effects of courtship and pair formation in wild Canvasbacks.

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