Female hatchling American kestrels have a larger hippocampus than males: A link with sexual size dimorphism?

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The brain and underlying cognition may vary adaptively according to an organism’s ecology. As with all raptor species, adult American kestrels (Falco sparverius) are sexually dimorphic with females being larger than males. Related to this sexual dimorphism, kestrels display sex differences in hunting and migration, with females ranging more widely than males, suggesting possible sex differences in spatial cognition. However, hippocampus volume, the brain region responsible for spatial cognition, has not been investigated in raptors. Here, we measured hippocampus and telencephalon volumes in American kestrel hatchlings. Female hatchlings had a significantly larger hippocampus relative to the telencephalon and brain weight than males (˜12% larger), although telencephalon volume relative to brain weight and body size was similar between the sexes. The magnitude of this hippocampal sex difference is similar to that reported between male and female polygynous Microtus voles and migratory and non-migratory subspecies of Zonotrichia sparrows. Future research should determine if this sex difference in relative hippocampus volume of hatchling kestrels persists into adulthood and if similar patterns exist in other raptor species, thus potentially linking sex differences in the brain to sex differences of space use of adults in the wild.

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