, Volume 67, Issue 6, pp 913-918

Avoiding parasitism by breeding indoors: cuckoo parasitism of hirundines and rejection of eggs

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Abstract

Brood parasitism is costly to hosts, and, therefore, a number of anti-parasite defenses have evolved. Surprisingly, several high-quality hosts such as martins and swallows are rarely parasitized, raising the question why that is the case. We hypothesize that martins and swallows may avoid parasitism by breeding in close association with humans, and by building nests that are inaccessible for common cuckoos Cuculus canorus and other brood parasites. Here we show using egg rejection experiments that red-rumped swallows Hirundo daurica, house martins Delichon urbica, and barn swallows Hirundo rustica in Europe do not reject foreign eggs placed in their nests, while barn swallows in China often reject foreign eggs. The frequency of parasitism of barn swallows in Europe was significantly higher than in house martins relative to the expectation based on the abundance of the two species. Barn swallows in Europe that were parasitized by cuckoos more often placed their nests outdoors than expected by chance, suggesting that avoidance of cuckoo parasitism can be achieved by breeding indoors. These findings suggest that barn swallows in China have gained egg rejection behavior because they cannot avoid parasitism when breeding outdoors.

Communicated by M. Soler