We used radioimmunoassay to determine fecal corticoid concentrations and assess potential stress in 10 endangered whooping cranes (Grus americana) undergoing reintroduction to the wild. Fecal samples were collected shortly after hatching at a captive facility in Maryland, during field training in Wisconsin, and throughout a human-led migration to Florida. After a 14-day decline following hatching, fecal corticoid concentrations stabilized at baseline levels for the duration of the captive period, despite exposure to potentially stressful stimuli. Shipment of the cranes to the field training site was correlated with an eight- to 34-fold increase in fecal corticoid concentrations, which returned to baseline levels within 1 week. Increases were positively correlated with age but not body weight at the time of shipping. Fecal corticoid concentrations during the training period increased slightly and exhibited greater variation than levels observed at the captive facility, but were well within expected norms based on previous studies. Fecal corticoid concentrations increased twofold following premigration physical examinations and placement of radiotransmitters, and persisted for up to 4 days before they returned to baseline levels. Though fecal corticoid concentrations and variation during the migration period were similar to training levels, there was an overall decline in fecal corticoid concentrations during the artificial migration. Acute stressors, such as capture, restraint, and severe storms, were associated with stress responses by the cranes that varied in accordance with lasting physical or psychological stimuli. The overall reintroduction process of costume-rearing, ultralight aircraft habituation, training, and artificial migration was not associated with elevations in fecal corticoid concentrations suggestive of chronic stress.
Additional publication details
Fecal corticoid monitoring in whooping cranes (Grus americana) undergoing reintroduction