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Fear and Exploration in European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris): A Comparison of Hand-Reared and Wild-Caught Birds

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Gesa Feenders, Kristel Klaus, Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD



The revision of EU legislation will ban the use of wild-caught animals in scientific procedures. This change is partially predicated on the assumption that captive-rearing produces animals with reduced fearfulness. Previously, we have shown that hand-reared starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) indeed exhibit reduced fear of humans compared to wild-caught conspecifics. Here, we asked whether this reduction in fear in hand-reared birds is limited to fear of humans or extends more generally to fear of novel environments and novel objects. Comparing 6-8 month old birds hand-reared in the lab with age-matched birds caught from the wild as fledged juveniles a minimum of 1 month previously, we examined the birds' initial reactions in a novel environment (a small cage) and found that wild-caught starlings were faster to initiate movement compared to the hand-reared birds. We interpret this difference as evidence for greater escape motivation in the wild-caught birds. In contrast, we found no differences between hand-reared and wild-caught birds when tested in novel object tests assumed to measure neophobia and exploratory behaviour. Moreover, we found no correlations between individual bird's responses in the different tests, supporting the idea that these measure different traits (e. g. fear and exploration). In summary, our data show that developmental origin affects one measure of response to novelty in young starlings, indicative of a difference in either fear or coping style in a stressful situation. Our data contribute to a growing literature demonstrating effects of earlylife experience on later behaviour in a range of species. However, since we did not find consistent evidence for reduced fearfulness in hand-reared birds, we remain agnostic about the welfare benefits of hand-rearing as a method for sourcing wild birds for behavioural and physiological research.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Feenders G, Klaus K, Bateson M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS ONE

Year: 2011

Volume: 6

Issue: 4

Print publication date: 01/04/2011

Date deposited: 07/11/2011

ISSN (print):

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019074


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Funder referenceFunder name
BB/05623/1UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council