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Cuckoos use host egg number to choose host nests for parasitism

Abstract : To maximize their offspring success common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) females should lay their eggs into host nests before incubation has begun. This ensures that the parasite chick hatches before all host chicks and can evict its foster siblings to monopolize host parental care. Many studies have demonstrated that most cuckoo eggs are indeed laid before the onset of host incubation. But cues used by female cuckoos to choose the right nest at the right time remain unclear. Here, we combine field observations with a field experiment to test whether female cuckoos use the number of eggs in the nests of their Oriental reed warbler (Acrocephalus orientalis) hosts to direct their choice. Over 8 years of field observations and 5 years of experiments, cuckoo females placed the majority of their eggs in nests with fewer than three host eggs, i.e. early in the laying sequence. For natural nests, the cuckoos may use information gleaned from the activity and behaviour of the host parents to make their choice. In our sets of experimental nests containing different numbers of model eggs, the vast majority of parasitism events occurred in nests containing a single egg. To our knowledge, this is the first field experiment showing that cuckoos choose host nests for parasitism based on the number of host eggs they contain. It appears that cuckoo females use the egg number to estimate the appropriate host nest stage for timely parasitism.
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https://hal-cnrs.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-03026302
Contributor : Anders Moller <>
Submitted on : Thursday, December 3, 2020 - 3:31:55 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, July 1, 2021 - 11:03:04 AM
Long-term archiving on: : Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 6:12:08 PM

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Longwu Wang, Canchao Yang, Gangbin He, Wei Liang, Anders Pape Møller. Cuckoos use host egg number to choose host nests for parasitism. Proceedings of the Royal Society. B, Biological Sciences, 2020, 287 (1928), pp.20200343. ⟨10.1098/rspb.2020.0343⟩. ⟨hal-03026302⟩

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