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article imageCuckoo's more successful with multiple eggs

By Tim Sandle     Sep 25, 2013 in Environment
Cuckoo finches that lay more than one egg in their victims' nests have a better chance of fooling the host parents into fostering their parasitic young, according to a new study.
Many cuckoos are what is termed "brood parasites," laying their eggs in the nests of other species. By being brood parasites, cuckoos do not have to invest in rearing their young or building nests.
The strategy of planting an egg in another bird's nest does not always work, especially when the host bird notices that the egg is from a different species. However, it seems that some cuckoos have a way to increase the chances of their young being reared, the BBC has reported. A new study has shown that when African cuckoo finch females lay more than one egg in the same nest of their African tawny-flanked prinia hosts (small insectivorous birds belonging to the passerine bird family Cisticolidae), the foster parents find it harder to tell their own eggs from the imposter's.
Host parents often have difficulty in distinguishing parasitic eggs from their own because cuckoo finches lay eggs that beautifully mimic those of their hosts. The presence of multiple parasite eggs in the nest causes hosts to be uncertain about which eggs belong to them and which are imposters. The new study has shown that the more cuckoo eggs there are, the easier it is to fool the host.
The research was carried out by U.K. academics Dr Martin Stevens from the University of Exeter and Dr Claire Spottiswoode from the University of Cambridge, with Dr Jolyon Troscianko at the University of Exeter. The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications in a paper titled "Repeated targeting of the same hosts by a brood parasite compromises host egg rejection."
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