Barretta, L. A., Maloney, S. K., Blachea, D. 2021. Pekin ducks are motivated to access their nest site and exhibit a stress-induced hyperthermia when unable to do so. Animal 15(1), 100067.
The origins of floor-laying in ducks could be low motivation for a nest, or stress related to difficulties with accessing a nest (e.g. competition). Using a behavioural demand test, we investigated if increasing the work required to access their nest impacted ducks’ behaviour and two indicators of stress: egg corticosterone concentration and elevation of core body temperature (stress-induced hyperthermia (SIH)). Twelve laying Pekin ducks previously trained in an operant push-door task were required to use a push-door to access their nest. The door was loaded with increasing weight (0–160% of individual BW, four nights per workload) and eventually blocked to prevent nest access. Before testing, temperature data loggers were implanted in the abdomen. Eggs were collected daily to measure corticosterone concentrations. Behaviour towards the push-door was quantified. Three birds were excluded from the experiment at an early stage. Five of the nine remaining birds pushed all workloads up to 160% BW and attempted to pass the blocked door, with another two birds pushing up to 80 and 140% BW. For those that pushed at all workloads (n = 5) the area under the curve (AUC) of hyperthermia was larger at workloads of 80% (P < 0.001), 120% (P < 0.01), 140% (P < 0.001), 160% (P < 0.001), and when the door was blocked (P < 0.001), compared with 0%. On the first night when the door was blocked, all five birds pushed more at the door, but no attempts were made to push on the following 3 nights, yet the AUC of hyperthermia did not differ between nights 2–4 of the blocked door, compared with the first night that the door was blocked. Increasing workload and inability to access the nest had no effect on corticosterone in egg albumen. It was concluded that laying Pekin ducks were motivated to access a nest. Although it was not possible to differentiate metabolic from psychogenic stress on the first night that nest access was denied, we suggest that the occurrence of hyperthermia on the subsequent nights was due to SIH resulting from frustration at their inability to use their preferred nest. Floor-laying therefore is unlikely due solely to low nest-seeking motivation. Egg corticosterone was not a relevant indicator of acute stress. Strategies to improve nest availability (e.g. decreasing competition) could improve the welfare of commercial ducks.