Exogenous and Endogenous Corticosterone Alter Feather Quality

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2009 Jan;152(1):46-52. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2008.08.034. Epub 2008 Sep 5.


We investigated how exogenous and endogenous glucocorticoids affect feather replacement in European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) after approximately 56% of flight feathers were removed. We hypothesized that corticosterone would retard feather regrowth and decrease feather quality. After feather regrowth began, birds were treated with exogenous corticosterone or sham implants, or endogenous corticosterone by applying psychological or physical (food restriction) stressors. Exogenous corticosterone had no impact on feather length and vane area, but rectrices were lighter than controls. Exogenous corticosterone also decreased inter-barb distance for all feathers and increased barbule number for secondaries and rectrices. Although exogenous corticosterone had no affect on rachis tensile strength and stiffness, barbicel hooking strength was reduced. Finally, exogenous corticosterone did not alter the ability of Bacillus licheniformis to degrade feathers or affect the number of feathers that failed to regrow. In contrast, endogenous corticosterone via food restriction resulted in greater inter-barb distances in primaries and secondaries, and acute and chronic stress resulted in greater inter-barb distances in rectrices. Food-restricted birds had significantly fewer barbules in primaries than chronic stress birds and weaker feathers compared to controls. We conclude that, although exogenous and endogenous corticosterone had slightly different effects, some flight feathers grown in the presence of high circulating corticosterone are lighter, potentially weaker, and with altered feather micro-structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Corticosterone / metabolism*
  • Corticosterone / pharmacology*
  • Feathers / anatomy & histology
  • Feathers / drug effects*
  • Feathers / physiology*
  • Implants, Experimental
  • Organ Size / drug effects
  • Starlings / anatomy & histology
  • Starlings / physiology*
  • Tensile Strength / drug effects


  • Corticosterone