Bird species with larger than average brains have lower levels of a key stress hormone, an analysis of nearly 200 avian studies has concluded. Such birds keep their stress down by anticipating or learning to avoid problems more effectively than smaller-brained counterparts, researchers suggest.
Birds in the wild lead a stressful life. Constantly spotting predators lurking in the trees or sensing dramatic changes in temperature is essential for survival, but can leave birds on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Reading these cues triggers changes in the birds’ metabolism, particularly increases in the stress hormone corticosterone. A sharp release of the hormone within 1 to 2 minutes after a cue triggers an emergency response and prepares birds to react quickly to the threat. However, regular exposure to the dangers of the wild and, hence, to high levels of this hormone, has serious health consequences and shortens life expectancy.