High caloric intake can increase production of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. We examined whether the emergence of the migratory phenotype, primarily signalled by increased food intake and fuelling, is accompanied by changes in oxidative status. We induced autumn migration followed by a non-migratory wintering phase in common quails (Coturnix coturnix). We compared three markers of oxidative status – oxidative damage to lipids expressed as thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS); superoxide dismutase (SOD); and glutathione peroxidase (GPx) – between birds sampled during the migratory and non-migratory phase. We found that the emergence of the migratory phenotype was associated with: (i) higher levels of TBARS in the liver; (ii) lower levels of SOD in red blood cells and, marginally, in the liver; (iii) higher levels of GPx in the pectoral muscle; and (iv) sex-specific changes in red blood cells and liver. We found no link between food intake and variation in markers of oxidative status in any of the tissues examined, despite food intake being higher in the migratory birds. However, the increase in body mass was positively correlated with muscle GPx activity as birds entered the pre-migratory fattening phase, while the amount of decrease in body mass was negatively correlated with muscle GPx as birds transitioned to the non-migratory phase. Such correlations were absent in red blood cells and liver. Our work suggests that during the emergence of the migratory phenotype, birds might strategically displace oxidative costs on the liver in order to safeguard the pectoral muscles, which have a fundamental role in successfully completing the migratory flight.

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