Feather Corticosterone Measurements and Behavioral Observations in the Great White Pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus) Living under Different Flight Restraint Conditions in German Zoos

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Gudrun Haase, Mechthild Wiegard, Christa Thöne-Reineke, Katrin Baumgartner, Lorenzo von Fersen, Hermann Will, Roswitha Merle, Manel Lopez-Bejar, Oriol Tallo-Parra, Annais Carbajal
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The pinioning of birds was previously one of the most-accepted forms of mutilation in zoos. Despite a lack of knowledge on the effects of deflighting procedures with regard to the well-being of deflighted birds, pelicans are often reversibly deflighted by feather-clipping to keep them in open enclosures, including those with ponds without netting. In the present study, we focused on the welfare implications of flight restraint on one of the most commonly kept types of birds in German zoos, the great white pelican. A combination of behavioral observations and feather corticosterone concentrations (CORTf) of pelicans with different deflighting statuses (i.e., irreversibly deflighted, reversibly deflighted, and airworthy) was used to evaluate the effects of deflighting status on pelican welfare. We observed 215 individuals in 21 different German zoos. The pelicans lived in differently designed exhibits. An ethogram for these species was developed and their behavior was evaluated by scan sampling. Feather samples from 182 individuals were collected to determine if different deflighting conditions influenced the CORTf and therefore stress levels. The hypothesis was that the CORTf values of airworthy pelicans differ from those of deflighted pelicans. Tendencies with regard to the flight status groups were found. Conversely, reversibly deflighted pelicans had higher CORTf levels than irreversible deflighted and airworthy pelicans. Tendencies with regard to CORTf values and the group size of the kept pelicans were observed. The CORTf values were lower in groups consisting of more than 10 animals. In addition, the frequency of fluttering behavior was positively associated with CORTf values. Pelicans that frequently showed fluttering had higher CORTf values. Therefore, fluttering behavior might be considered a sign of stress levels in pelicans. This study is one of the first important steps in assessing the impact of deflighting procedures on the welfare of great white pelicans kept in zoos.


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