, Volume 68, Issue 2, pp 333-342
Date: 12 Dec 2013

Great spotted cuckoo fledglings are disadvantaged by magpie host parents when reared together with magpie nestlings

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The post-fledging period is a critical phase for juvenile survival, and parental care provided during this period is a key component of avian reproductive performance. Very little is known about the relationships between foster parents and fledglings of brood parasites. Here, we present the results of a 5-year study about the relationships between fledglings of the non-evictor brood parasitic great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) and its magpie (Pica pica) foster parents. Sometimes, great spotted cuckoo and magpie nestlings from the same nest can fledge successfully, but most often parasitic nestlings outcompete host nestlings and only cuckoos leave the nest. We have studied several aspects of cuckoo post-fledging performance (i.e. feeding behaviour, parental defence and fledgling survival) in experimental nests in which only cuckoos or both magpie and cuckoo nestlings survived until leaving the nest. The results indicate that great spotted cuckoo fledglings reared in mixed broods together with magpie nestlings were disadvantaged by magpie adults with respect to feeding patterns. Fledgling cuckoos reared in mixed broods were fed less frequently than those reared in only cuckoo broods, and magpie adults approached less frequently to feed cuckoos from mixed broods than cuckoos from only cuckoo broods. These results imply that the presence of host's own nestlings for comparison may be a crucial clue favouring the evolution of fledgling discrimination; and furthermore, that the risk of discrimination at the fledgling stage probably is an important selection pressure driving the evolution of the arms race between brood parasites and their hosts.