Post-hatching parental care behaviour and hormonal status in a precocial bird

Institut pluridisciplinaire Hubert-Curien, département écologie, physiologie et éthologie, UMR 7178 CNRS-ULP, 23, rue Becquerel, 67087 Strasbourg cedex 2, France.
Behavioural Processes (Impact Factor: 1.46). 12/2007; 76(3):206-14. DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2007.05.003
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT In birds, the link between parental care behaviour and prolactin release during incubation persists after hatching in altricial birds, but has never been precisely studied during the whole rearing period in precocial species, such as ducks. The present study aims to understand how changes in parental care after hatching are related to circulating prolactin levels in mallard hens rearing ducklings. Blood was sampled in hens over at least 13 post-hatching weeks and the behaviour of the hens and the ducklings was recorded daily until fledging. Contacts between hens and the ducklings, leadership of the ducklings and gathering of them steadily decreased over post-hatching time. Conversely, resting, preening and agonistic behaviour of hens towards ducklings increased. Plasma prolactin concentrations remained at high levels after hatching and then fell after week 6 when body mass and structural size of the young were close to those of the hen. Parental care behaviour declined linearly with brood age, showed a disruption of the hen-brood bond at week 6 post-hatching and was related to prolactin concentration according to a sigmoid function. Our results suggest that a definite threshold in circulating prolactin is necessary to promote and/or to maintain post-hatching parental care in ducks.

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