Begging signals and endogenous testosterone (T) levels of young birds have been shown to be positively correlated. If T is causally involved in controlling the level of begging effort, an endocrine control mechanism could explain the evolution of begging as a costly signal reflecting need. We tested experimentally whether elevated circulating T levels enhanced begging behaviour in nestling pied flycatchers, Ficedula hypoleuca. A pilot study confirmed that nestling T levels could be elevated within a natural physiological range using an oral dose of T. After T-dosing, nestling begging behaviour was measured as: i) the duration of begging displays and ii) the maximum height of begging stretches. Our results show that nestling T levels were elevated at 90 min post dosing and that at this time point both measures of begging behaviour were performed more intensely by T-dosed nestlings than controls. Nestling begging displays in response to dosing varied between individuals, which in part was explained either by the date in the breeding season or nestling mass. The results of this study confirm the causal nature of T in controlling nestling begging signals and suggest that it may be part of the mechanism that controls begging behaviour in nestling birds.
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