We measured corticosterone in plasma collected from free-living Adélie Penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) and made blood smears to count the ratio of heterophils to lymphocytes (H/L). Our objective was to categorize how these two measures of stress vary with potential stressors in the birds' environment. In penguins that were repeatedly sampled from three to eight times, repeated handling did not affect corticosterone levels or H/L, but there were significant differences among individuals. Nesting stage did not affect corticosterone level, but H/L was significantly lower during the chick stage than in the courting or incubation stages. Sex and handling times of less than 5 min had no effect on either corticosterone or H/L. In birds that had fasted up to 40 days during the courtship and early incubation stages, there was no increase in corticosterone or H/L with length of fasting, but in birds that had fasted more than 50 days, corticosterone levels increased. Birds with obvious injuries had significantly higher H/L than birds that had recently engaged in fights or those caring for chicks, but corticosterone levels did not differ in these groups. In free-living birds, H/L ratios provide a measure of stress that may be more useful than a single measure of plasma corticosterone in assessing response to chronic stressors like injury or crowded conditions in the breeding colony.
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Vol. 102 • No. 2