Reproductive physiology of free-living White Ibises (Eudocimus albus) in the Florida Everglades


We measured plasma concentrations of testosterone, estradiol, progesterone, and corticosterone; and recorded changes in gonad size, body condition, molt, and brood patch development of free-living adult White Ibises (Eudocimus albus) during the breeding season in the Florida Everglades. White Ibises are colonially breeding, long-legged wading birds that inhabit freshwater and estuarine wetlands. They have flexible breeding schedules (nest initiation dates can range from January to September) and onset of nesting is usually associated with increased prey availability caused by concentration of small fish in pools during periods of wetland drying. In this paper, we present the hormonal and physical characteristics of White Ibis reproductive physiology. We classified White Ibis breeding into five stages: pre-breeding, display, copulation/egg production, incubation, and chick rearing. White Ibises showed cyclic gonadal development which corresponded to reproductive stage. Male and female testosterone concentrations increased during the display stage and decreased during copulation, incubation, and chick rearing. Female estradiol concentrations were highest during display and chick rearing and male estradiol concentrations were lowest during copulation. Female progesterone concentrations increased during display and remained high throughout the breeding season. Female ibises had low corticosterone concentrations that increased during incubation and were highest during chick rearing, concomitant with lower body condition and flight muscle-mass scores. Male ibis progesterone and corticosterone concentrations did not show seasonal changes and were more variable than concentrations in female ibises at similar stages. Males and females had elevated body condition scores during the display stage, which were depleted by the onset of incubation. Increased energy stores during display may be used later for fasting in male birds that do not eat during the 10-day copulation/egg production stage, and for egg production in female birds. During incubation, male and female ibises developed brood patches. Ibises molted in all stages of reproduction, indicating that ibis molt and reproductive physiology may not inhibit each other as in most temperate bird species. White Ibises showed similar patterns in reproductive physiology to other monogamous, seasonally breeding bird species in which both sexes incubate and care for the young.

General and Comparative Endocrinology