Effect of testosterone blockers on male aggression, song and parental care in an arctic passerine, the Lapland longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)

Kathleen E. Hunt, Thomas P. Hahn, C. Loren Buck, John C. Wingfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In many passerine birds, testosterone stimulates song and aggression but inhibits paternal care, but few studies have explored whether such effects can be reversed with testosterone blockers. We explored the effect of testosterone blockers on song, aggression and paternal care of Lapland longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus), an arctic passerine with a short breeding season. Twenty-one “blocker males” received implants containing an androgen receptor blocker and an aromatase inhibitor, compared to 27 control males with empty or no implants. Song, aggression and other behaviors were evaluated with simulated territorial intrusions (STI) during mate-guarding, and with focal observations (without STI) during mate-guarding and incubation. Nests were monitored and nestlings weighed as an indirect measure of paternal care. During STI, blocker males exhibited similar song rates, significantly lower aggression, and were significantly less likely to be found on territory than control males. Focal observations revealed no differences in spontaneous song, aggression, foraging, preening, or flight activity. Blocker males' nestlings had greater body mass on day 5 after hatching, but this difference disappeared by fledging, and both groups fledged similar numbers of young. Two blocker males exhibited unusual paternal care: incubation and brooding of young, or feeding of nestlings at another male's nest. In sum, testosterone blockers affected aggression but not song, contrasting with results from previously published testosterone implant studies. Effects on paternal care were concordant with testosterone implant studies. These patterns may be related to rapid behavioral changes characteristic of the short breeding season of the Arctic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10-18
Number of pages9
JournalHormones and Behavior
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Aggression
  • Arctic
  • Behavioral insensitivity
  • Climate change
  • Parental care
  • Short season hypothesis
  • Song
  • Territoriality
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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