World's Poultry Science Journal

Research Article

Avian blood leucocyte responses to stress

M. H. Maxwella1

a1 AFRC Institute of Animal Physiology and Genetics Research, Edinburgh Research Station, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9PS, UK


This review on avian blood leucocyte responses to stress covers the literature from the early 1980s. It considers only non-infectious hormonal responses of leucocytes to stress mediated either by nutritional, parenteral, climatic/environmental (physical or social) or psychological stressors. The heterophil/lymphocyte (H/L) ratio after the administration of ACTH either in the diet or by injection and during food restriction studies has been studied. The ratio was found to be inadequate during severe food restriction studies, as some stressed birds responded with a heteropenia, lymphocytosis and a significant basophilia. Climatic and environmental stressors such as road transportation and heat stress produced significantly raised H/L ratios and basophilias, respectively. Psychological stressors such as fasting, frustration or noise showed different leucocytic responses and the times in which cells were mobilized also varied. Although the H/L ratio is a less variable indicator of avian stress than individual cell numbers and more reliable than corticosteroid levels in plasma, this rule applies only when mild to moderate stress exists. During extreme stress, as in life-threatening situations, a heteropenia and basophilia develop so the H/L ratio cannot always be accepted as an accurate measurement of stress in poultry. Thus, in some avian stress a two-phase cellular reaction may be present. This biphasic leucocytic response to stress may be unique to Aves.


  • Avian;
  • blood;
  • leucocytes;
  • stress responses