Fecal corticosteroids in a territorial bird selected for different personalities: daily rhythm and the response to social stress

Horm Behav. 2003 May;43(5):540-8. doi: 10.1016/s0018-506x(03)00065-5.


In this study we tested the hypothesis that in a passerine bird (great tit, Parus major) individuals differing for coping strategies differ in the magnitude of the adrenocortical response to social stress as well. Furthermore, we aimed at characterizing daily rhythms in corticosteroid release before and after social stress. We used 16 males from either of two lines bidirectionally selected for different coping strategies (fast and slow explorers). Social stress was induced by confrontation with an aggressive resident male. Corticosteroid metabolites were analyzed in feces collected at 90-min intervals from 900 to 1630 h on a baseline day, on the day of the social conflict, and on the following day. In both days and in both lines levels varied with time of day in a robust rhythm with a peak in the first sample of the morning and a trough at the end of the light phase. This rhythm correlates with activity (perch hopping). An overall increase in levels relative to baseline day was observed between 30 and 140 min after the challenge. Birds of the less aggressive and more cautious line (slow explorers) showed a trend for a higher response compared to birds of the more aggressive and bolder line (fast explorers), which showed almost no response. On the day after the challenge the birds of the slow line exhibited significantly reduced corticosteroid secretion, probably due to an increased negative feedback. The results provide evidence for a physiological basis of different coping strategies in birds, emerging in response to social stress and with a pattern similar to that in other vertebrates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / analysis
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / metabolism
  • Aggression / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Corticosterone / analysis
  • Corticosterone / metabolism*
  • Feces / chemistry*
  • Male
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Territoriality


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Corticosterone