The Effects of Social Stress, Human Presence, and Handling on Circulating Corticosterone Levels in Captive Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus)

Student: Kelly Summers
Mentor: Dustin Reichard (OWU Department of Zoology)

Pet animals may experience stress when held, which can threaten their health and well-being. We examined whether handling by humans and the presence of stressed members in a social group affects the concentrations of a stress hormone found in the blood of captive budgerigars, a common pet bird. We expect that both handled birds and other members of their social group will show higher levels of the stress hormone after human contact. Therefore, in order to promote the longevity of your pet bird, we suggest avoiding unsolicited contact.

Budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus) are common household pets submitted to unsolicited handling that may ultimately threaten their health and well-being. Handling birds can result in the release of corticosterone – a hormone comparable to that of cortisol in humans, which regulates metabolic and stress signal cascades. Long-term exposure to corticosterone has been shown to compromise a bird’s ability to grow feathers during the molt by inhibiting the production of proteins essential for feather production. However, previous research has failed to examine the corticosterone levels in captive parakeets when exposed to handling stress and whether the effects of such stress can also induce the stress response in other members of a social group. Nine captive female parakeets were organized randomly into groups of three. The central member of each group was removed, stressed by handling and plasma sampling, and returned to the group. After a period of reacclimating, plasma samples were taken from the two remaining focal birds. We predict that corticosterone levels will increase in response to handling as well as the injury and behavioral stress exhibited by another group member.