Sudden weather deterioration but not brood size affects baseline corticosterone levels in nestling Alpine swifts

Horm Behav. 2010 Sep;58(4):591-8. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2010.06.020. Epub 2010 Jul 8.


While evidence is accumulating that stress-induced glucocorticoid responses help organisms to quickly adjust their physiology and behaviour to life-threatening environmental perturbations, the function and the ecological factors inducing variation in baseline glucocorticoid levels remain poorly understood. In this study we investigated the effects of brood size by experimentally manipulating the number of nestlings per brood and the effect of weather condition on baseline corticosterone levels of nestling Alpine swifts (Apus melba). We also examined the potential negative consequences of an elevation of baseline corticosterone on nestling immunity by correlating corticosterone levels with ectoparasite intensity and the antibody production towards a vaccine. Although nestlings reared in enlarged broods were in poorer condition than nestlings reared in reduced broods, they showed similar baseline corticosterone levels. In contrast, nestling baseline corticosterone levels were higher immediately after cold and rainy episodes with strong winds. Neither nestling infestation rate by ectoparastic flies nor nestling antibody production against a vaccine was correlated with baseline corticosterone levels. Thus, our results suggest that altricial Alpine swift nestlings can quickly modulate baseline corticosterone levels in response to unpredictable variations in meteorological perturbation but not to brood size which may be associated with the degree of sibling competition. Apparently, short-term elevations of baseline corticosterone have no negative effects on nestling immunocompetence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / physiology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Birds / blood
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Clutch Size / physiology*
  • Corticosterone / analysis
  • Corticosterone / blood*
  • Nesting Behavior / physiology*
  • Sibling Relations
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Weather*


  • Corticosterone