Flavonoids are the most abundant plant polyphenols, widely occurring in fruits and berries, and show a strong antioxidant activity in vitro. Studies of avian species feeding on berries suggest that dietary flavonoids have health-promoting effects and may enhance the expression of melanin-based plumage traits. These effects are likely mediated by the antioxidant activity of flavonoids. However, the effect of dietary flavonoids on oxidative status has never been investigated in any bird species. We analysed the effects of dietary flavonoids on blood non-enzymatic antioxidants and protein oxidative damage of juvenile European blackbirds (Turdus merula). In addition, we analysed the effects of the flavonoid-enriched diet on body condition and on timing of moult from juvenile to adult plumage. Dietary flavonoids did not significantly affect the redox status but significantly advanced the onset of moult, hastening plumage development. Moulting birds showed higher protein oxidative damage compared to those that had not yet started moulting. The probability to initiate moult after 40 days of dietary treatment was higher for birds with low circulating levels of oxidizing agents and high glutathione concentration. The metabolization of flavonoids could have altered their redox potential, resulting in not net effects on redox status. However, flavonoid consumption before and during moult may contribute to enhance plumage development. Moreover, our findings suggest that moulting feathers may result in redox imbalance. Given their effect on moult and growth of melanin-rich feathers, fruit flavonoids may have contributed to the evolution of plant fruiting time in relation to fruit consumption preferences by birds.
- Received April 6, 2016.
- Accepted July 26, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd