Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 158, Issue 1, pp 203–212 | Cite as

Overlapping life-history stages in migrating songbirds: variation in circulating testosterone and testosterone production capacity

  • Kristen M. CovinoEmail author
  • Jodie M. Jawor
  • Jeffrey F. Kelly
  • Frank R. Moore
Original Article


Understanding the extent of overlap between life-history stages is fundamental to understanding full-life cycle biology, especially for migratory species. Testosterone levels vary throughout the annual cycle in seasonally reproducing vertebrates. In migratory songbirds, testosterone increases associated with breeding preparation may overlap with the vernal migratory period; however, this overlap remains largely unexplored. We test the hypothesis that both circulating testosterone and the capacity to elevate testosterone increases throughout vernal migration in long-distance songbird migrants. Here we relate testosterone in songbirds sampled en route with the stable hydrogen isotope ratios in their feathers as a metric of breeding ground proximity. We determined the capacity to elevate testosterone using field gonadotropin-releasing hormone bioassays and related this to feather hydrogen ratios as well. Males that were closer to their breeding grounds had higher circulating testosterone, whereas there was no relationship between testosterone and breeding ground proximity in females. Similarly, while capacity to elevate testosterone was not related to breeding ground proximity in female migrants, this capacity was greater in males closer to their breeding grounds than those further away. These results reveal that male migrants prepare for breeding during their vernal migration, whereas the schedule for breeding preparation among females is less clear and may be more complex.


Breeding preparation Vernal migration Testosterone Gonadotropin-releasing hormone bioassay 


Überlappende Lebenszyklusstadien bei ziehenden Singvögeln: Variation im zirkulierenden Testosteron und in der Synthesekapazität für Testosteron Zu verstehen, in welchem Maße Lebenszyklusstadien überlappen, ist fundamental für ein Verständnis der Biologie des kompletten Lebenszyklus, und zwar besonders bei ziehenden Arten. Bei saisonal reproduzierenden Wirbeltieren variiert der Testosteronspiegel im Verlauf des Jahres. Bei ziehenden Singvögeln kann ein mit der Brutvorbereitung verbundener Anstieg des Testosteronspiegels mit dem Frühjahrszug überlappen, doch diese Überlappung ist bisher weitgehend unerforscht. Wir testeten die Hypothese, dass sowohl das im Blut zirkulierende Testosteron als auch die Kapazität, den Testosteronspiegel zu erhöhen, bei langstreckenziehenden Singvögeln auf dem Frühjahrszug ansteigen. Hierfür setzten wir die bei Singvögeln auf dem Zug gemessenen Testosteronspiegel in Beziehung zum stabilen Wasserstoffisotopenverhältnis in ihren Federn, welches als Maß für die Nähe zum Brutgebiet dient. Die Kapazität, den Testosteronspiegel zu erhöhen, haben wir ermittelt, indem wir im Freiland Gonadoliberin-Biotests durchgeführt haben. Diese Kapazität haben wir dann ebenfalls zu den Wasserstoffisotopenverhältnissen in den Federn in Beziehung gesetzt. Näher am Brutgebiet befindliche Männchen wiesen höheres zirkulierendes Testosteron auf, wohingegen bei Weibchen kein Zusammenhang zwischen Testosteron und der Nähe zum Brutgebiet bestand. Gleichermaßen hing die Kapazität, den Testosteronspiegel zu erhöhen, bei ziehenden Weibchen nicht mit der Nähe zum Brutgebiet zusammen, während sie bei näher am Brutgebiet befindlichen Männchen höher war als bei weiter vom Brutgebiet entfernten Männchen. Diese Ergebnisse zeigen, dass männliche Zugvögel sich bereits auf dem Frühjahrszug auf die Brut vorbereiten, während der Zeitplan der Brutvorbereitung bei Weibchen weniger klar und möglicherweise komplexer ist.



We thank the Migratory Bird Research Group and field technicians for their assistance with the field work. We also thank Sarah Engel and Sandra Pletschet for their work on the isotope sample preparation. Funding was provided by the Louisiana Ornithological Society, Eastern Bird Banding Association, Inland Bird Banding Association, and a National Science Foundation GK12 fellowship to K.M.C. (#0947944). Financial support was also provided via startup funds from the University of Southern Mississippi to J.M.J., from a basic research account at the University of Southern Mississippi under F.R.M., and through a National Science Foundation grant (EF-1340921) to J.F.K. All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristen M. Covino
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jodie M. Jawor
    • 3
  • Jeffrey F. Kelly
    • 4
  • Frank R. Moore
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA
  2. 2.Biology DepartmentCanisius CollegeBuffaloUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  4. 4.Oklahoma Biological Survey and Department of BiologyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA

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