Parent black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) and their dependent chicks respond to food shortages by increasing circulating levels of corticosterone. To examine the behavioral significance of corticosterone release, we experimentally increased levels of circulating corticosterone in parents and chicks up to the levels observed during food shortages. We found that corticosterone-implanted chicks begged more frequently than sham-implanted controls. Corticosterone-implanted chicks in broods of two begged more frequently than singletons. Parent kittiwakes then responded to the increase in corticosterone levels in their chicks by increasing chick-feeding rates. However, feeding rates were not different among corticosterone-implanted chicks in broods of two and singletons. We also found that corticosterone-implanted parents spent more time away from the nest - perhaps foraging - and less time brooding/guarding chicks than sham-implanted controls. Untreated mates of the corticosterone-implanted bird did not compensate for the change in their partner's behavior; consequently, chicks were left unattended about 20% of the time compared to 1% at the control nests. However, corticosterone-implanted parents did not decrease their chick-feeding rates. Our findings suggest two functional implications of the increased corticosterone secretion during food shortages in the black-legged kittiwake: it facilitates begging in chicks, and it affects time allocated by parents to guarding young at the nest. Thus, release of corticosterone might provide a mechanistic link between physiological condition and behavioral interactions among adults and their young.
Additional publication details
Corticosterone facilitates begging and affects resource allocation in the black-legged kittiwake