Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 60, Issue 5, pp 716–723 | Cite as

Cuckoo growth performance in parasitized and unused hosts: not only host size matters

  • Tomáš GrimEmail author
Original Article


The quality and quantity of food delivered to young are among the major determinants of fitness. A parental provisioning capacity is known to increase with body size. Therefore, brood parasitism provides an opportunity to test the effects of varying provisioning abilities of different-sized hosts on parasitic chick growth and fledging success. Knowledge of growth patterns of common cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, chicks in nests of common hosts is very poor. Moreover, no study to date has focused on any currently unused hosts (i.e., suitable cuckoo host species in which parasitism is currently rare or absent). Here, I compare the growth performance of cuckoo chicks in nests of a common host (the reed warbler, Acrocephalus scirpaceus) and two unparasitized hosts (the song thrush, Turdus philomelos, and the blackbird, Turdus merula). Parasitic chicks were sole occupants of the observed nests, thus eliminating the confounding effect of competition with host chicks. Experiments revealed striking differences in parasitic chick growth in the two closely related Turdus hosts. Cuckoo chicks cross-fostered to song thrush nests grew much quicker and attained much higher mass at fledging than those in nests of their common reed warbler host. Alternatively, parasitic chicks in blackbird nests grew poorly and did not survive until fledging. I discuss these observations with respect to host selection by parasitic cuckoos.


Brood parasitism Host selection Parental care Growth Cuculus canorus 



Suggestions by three anonymous referees and the associate editor substantially improved this paper. I would like to thank M. E. Hauber, O. Kleven, E. Røskaft and V. Remeš for their comments on earlier versions of the MS. P. Procházka kindly provided some video recordings. I am grateful to all who helped with the fieldwork: A. Dvorská, M. Honza, O. Kleven, B. Matysioková, A. Moksnes, P. Procházka, E. Røskaft, G. Rudolfsen, and V. Šícha. When working on this paper, I was supported by grants from the Research Council of Norway, the Czech Ministry of Education (grants No. 153100012 and No. MSM6198959212), and the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (206/03/D234). No nest was abandoned after the experiments were performed. The experiments were done under license from The Central Commission for Animal Welfare of the Czech Republic (No. 065/2002–V2) and in accordance with the laws and ethical guidelines of the Czech Republic.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyPalacký UniversityOlomoucCzech Republic

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