Stress-Induced Hyperglycemia in White-Throated and White-Crowned Sparrows: A New Technique for Rapid Glucose Measurement in the Field

Physiol Biochem Zool. 2018 Jul/Aug;91(4):943-949. doi: 10.1086/698536.


Organisms experience stressors, and the physiological response to these stressors is highly conserved. Acute stress activates both the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, increasing epinephrine, norepinephrine, and glucocorticoids, collectively promoting glucose mobilization. While this is well characterized in mammals, the hyperglycemic response to stress in avian and nonavian reptiles has received less attention. A number of factors, ranging from time of day to blood loss, are reported to influence the extent to which acute stress leads to hyperglycemia in birds. Here we characterized the glycemic response to acute handling stress in two species of free-living sparrows: white-throated sparrows (WTSPs: Zonotrichia albicollis) in St. Mary's County, Maryland, and white-crowned sparrows (WCSPs: Zonotrichia leucophrys) in Tioga Pass Meadow, California. We validated a novel technique for rapid field measurement of glucose using a human blood glucose meter, FreeStyle Lite. As expected, acute handling stress elevated blood glucose at both 15 and 30 min postcapture as compared to baseline for both WTSPs and WCSPs. In addition, handling for 30 min without bleeding had the same hyperglycemic effect as handling with serial bleeds in WCSPs. Finally, body condition that was measured as abdominal fat score predicted stress-induced blood glucose in WTSPs but not in WCSPs. Our results are consistent with the mammalian literature on acute stress and energy mobilization, and we introduce a new field technique for avian field biologists.

Keywords: glucose metabolism; hyperglycemia; stress response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Glucose / physiology*
  • Blood Specimen Collection / methods
  • Blood Specimen Collection / veterinary*
  • Hyperglycemia / veterinary*
  • Point-of-Care Systems*
  • Sparrows / blood*
  • Sparrows / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*


  • Blood Glucose