Integrating orientation mechanisms, adrenocortical activity, and endurance flight in vagrancy behaviour

Avian migratory processes are typically precisely oriented, yet vagrants are frequently recorded outside their normal range. Wind displaced vagrants often show corrective behaviour, and as an appropriate response is likely adaptive. We investigated the physiological response to vagrancy in passerines. Activation of the emergency life-history stage (ELHS), assessed by high baseline plasma corticosterone, is a potential mechanism to elicit compensatory behaviour in response to challenges resulting from navigational error, coupled with response to fuel load and flight. We compared circulating plasma corticosterone concentrations and body condition between three migratory groups in autumn: (1) wind displaced southwest (SW) vagrants and (2) long range southeast (SE) vagrants on the remote Faroe Islands, and (3) birds within the expected SW migratory route (controls) on the Falsterbo peninsula, Sweden. Vagrants were further grouped by those sampled immediately upon termination of over-water migratory flight and those already on the island. In all groups there was no indication of the activation of the ELHS in response to vagrancy. We found limited support for an increased rate of corticosterone elevation within our 3 min sample interval in a single species, but this was driven by an individual ELHS outlier. Fat scores were negatively correlated with circulating corticosterone; this relationship may suggest that ELHS activation depends upon an individual's energetic states. Interestingly, in individuals caught at the completion of an obligate long-distance flight, we found some evidence of corticosterone suppression. Although limited, data did support the induction of negative feedback mechanisms that suppress corticosterone during endurance exercise, even when fuel loads are low.