• Characterizing glucocorticoid levels in five species of sea ducks occurring in Alaska

      Nilsson, Peter B. (2004-12)
      Stress hormone analysis, used in conjunction with other physiological parameters, may help identify factors affecting sea duck populations in their natural environment. Corticosterone, the primary 'stress hormone' in birds, is secreted in response to a stressor and enhances an individual's chance of survival by inducing physiological and behavioral changes. Establishing a valid method for evaluating stress hormone levels in sea ducks and gaining basic information on baseline concentrations and stress response in these birds are important first steps to identify factors that may negatively affect sea duck populations. This study validated a radioimmunoassay (RIA) procedure to measure corticosterone concentrations in harlequin duck serum and feces and in Steller's, spectacled, common, and king eider serum. Other objectives included characterization of baseline corticosterone concentrations, investigation of stress response, and the relationship between corticosterone and other variables in captive and wild sea ducks. The results indicate that fecal samples can be used to non-invasively measure corticosterone in harlequin ducks. Captive birds exhibited overall lower baseline levels of corticosterone than wild birds. The stress response observed in harlequin ducks was similar to other avian species. Rapid post-capture blood sampling is critical for evaluation of baseline corticosterone levels.