Skip Navigation
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthCAAT

Animal Welfare Enhancement Awards - 2004 Recipients

Reduction of Captivity Stress in Chronically Housed Pigeons through an Enriched Environment Program
Anita Conte, MA
The City University of New York

What makes a pigeon happy? For a person there seems to be no definitive answer to this question. As a result we must rely on our observations in the field, in a lab or animal facilities rather than hard data. We must scrutinize it from a human point of view. Given that our understanding on this topic is somewhat limited, it seems logical to hypothesize that what causes pain and distress to humans will also cause pain and distress in animals. Or you could ask a pigeon. We did.

Humans regard freedom and the right to choose as an absolute. Given this truth, one could argue, the loss of freedom would cause a great deal of stress to any sentient creature. This experiment manipulated freedom and the right to choose in lab pigeons.

Repetitive stereotypical behaviors were recorded and monitored for a period of four weeks (this was our control group). Next, birds were put into a crowded condition, two in a single home cage. Once again behavior was monitored and recorded. In the last condition, 3 sets of 6 birds were group housed in a 5' X 8' flight cage. The cage included various items thought to be of interest to the birds. Fecal samples were collected in all three situations and are in the process of being assayed. The expected results are that fecal coticosterone levels will be high in the control group, higher in the crowded condition and lower in the flight cage.

The expectations are based on the evidence that corticosterone is a clear indicator of stress in birds (Harvey, et al. 1980, Harvey, et al. 1984,) which unfailingly increases after a range of stressful events such as crowding, handling and captivity (Siegel, 1980).

  • Harvey S, Merry BJ, Phillips JG. Influence of stress on the secretion of corticosterone in the duck (Anas platyrhynchos). J Endocrinol, 1980; 87:161-171.
  • Harvey S, Phillips JG, Rees A, and Hall TR. Stress and adrenal function. J Exp Zool, 1984; 232:633-645.
  • Siegel HS. Physiological stress in birds. BioScience, 1980; 301:529-533.