Yolk Hormones Have Sex-Specific Long-Term Effects on Behavior in the Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula Hypoleuca)

Horm Behav. 2010 Feb;57(2):119-27. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2009.09.017. Epub 2009 Oct 3.


The hormonal environment during early development, such as maternally derived androgens in bird eggs, shapes the development and phenotype of the offspring in ways that may have important long-term consequences for behaviour. We studied the effects of yolk androgens on multiple behavioural traits in female and male pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) by experimentally elevating androgen levels (testosterone and androstenedione) in the eggs. The birds were housed in a common-garden environment in captivity until full independence, after which their behaviour was tested. We found that androgen-treated males were more likely than control males to explore a novel environment and showed higher activity in the presence of a novel object. In response to a simulated predator attack, androgen-treated males mainly showed freezing behaviour, while control males showed escape behaviour. Females from the androgen treatment and control group showed no differences in these behaviours. Androgen treatment did not affect neophobia (latency to approach the novel object) or dominance behaviour in either sex. Behaviour in the novel environment and towards a novel object was repeatable, but behaviours in the different experiments were mostly not inter-correlated. These results indicate that yolk androgens have various long-lasting effects on behaviour, especially in males, but that they do not induce a distinct behavioural syndrome. As behaviour is strongly linked with fitness, our results suggest that yolk androgens may play a role in determining fitness, and thus play a potentially adaptive role.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Androstenedione / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Egg Yolk / metabolism*
  • Environment
  • Escape Reaction / physiology
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology
  • Fear / physiology
  • Female
  • Freezing Reaction, Cataleptic / physiology
  • Housing, Animal
  • Male
  • Passeriformes / growth & development
  • Passeriformes / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Social Dominance
  • Testosterone / metabolism*
  • Time Factors


  • Testosterone
  • Androstenedione