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Fight or Flight Response in Wild Birds

The fight-or-flight response is primarily mediated by epinephrine and norepinephrine released by the adrenal gland. Although these hormones are released far too quickly for easy study, one of their effects is to rapidly increase heart rate. The data shown here shows that heart rate can double in just a few beats. Our lab is using implanted heart rate transmitters to monitor stress-induced changes in heart rate as a measure of the fight-or-flight response. Most of this work is being done in the laboratory on captive European starlings.

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The overall goal of this work is to create an integrated picture of the full stress response. When animals are faced with stressful stimuli, they have three parallel responses. They secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine, secrete glucocorticoids, and alter their behavior. We are currently asking whether there are seasonal changes in the fight-or-flight responses to stress, and several recent papers address how chronic stress alters these responses.