Annual cycles of migratory fattening, reproduction and moult in European quail (Coturnix coturnix)

Authors

  • T. Boswell,

    1. AFRC Research Group on Photoperiodism & Reproduction, Department of Zoology, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1UG, UK
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    • *Department of Zoology, NJ-15, University of Washington, Seattle. WA 98195, USA

  • M. R. Hall,

    1. AFRC Research Group on Photoperiodism & Reproduction, Department of Zoology, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1UG, UK
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  • A. R. Goldsmith

    1. AFRC Research Group on Photoperiodism & Reproduction, Department of Zoology, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1UG, UK
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Abstract

Experimental studies of the physiological mechanisms underlying avian migration have concentrated on small passerines. The present study is concerned with the regulation of migratory fat deposition in a galliform. the European quail (Coturnix coturnix). The increased mass associated with migration was due exclusively to the deposition of fat whereas the increased body mass of laying females was due to increases in lean tissue and water as well as fat. Annual cycles of body mass, moult, gonadal size and plasma luteinizing hormone were measured every other week in captive males and females held outdoors under natural daylengths and temperatures in Bristol, UK (51° 27′ N). Males and females showed two peaks of fat deposition each year which occurred at the migratory passage times reported in wild birds. Luteinizing hormone levels and gonadal size increased in parallel with vernal fat deposition, and remained high until late summer. The pattern of primary feather moult in the intact birds was similar to that of wild quail, with moult following gonadal regression and being suspended during autumnal fattening. Castration of European quail did not inhibit the expression of migratory fattening, as it does In certain passerines. In fact, castrates displayed fattening cycles that were more clearly defined and of greater amplitude than those in the intact males. The annual cycle of European quail differs from that of other well-studied passerine migrants such as Zonotrichia sparrows, and this is most likely associated with differences in breeding ecology. In addition, the ability of quail to express vernal fattening independently of the presence of the gonads suggests that taxonomic differences between migratory species are also apparent in the physiological mechanisms of migratory fattening.

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