Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 3, pp 475–485 | Cite as

Environmental conditions influence egg color of reed warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus and their parasite, the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus

  • Jesús M. Avilés
  • Bård G. Stokke
  • Arne Moksnes
  • Eivin Røskaft
  • Anders P. Møller
Original Article


The outer layer of the eggshell in birds is in many cases covered by pigments that are assumed to be genetically determined traits with a negligible environmental component. To test the hypothesis that spring environmental conditions (i.e., temperature and rainfall) may affect bird egg pigmentation, we measured by spectrophotometry and photography egg coloration and spottiness on reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus L.) clutches parasitized by the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus L.) collected over a period of 24 years and preserved in the Zoological Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark. In addition, we investigated whether spring environmental conditions may influence the coevolutionary relationship between the cuckoo and its host via changes in cuckoo–host egg matching. Generalized mixed models revealed that reed warbler eggs were more brilliant in those springs with a higher rainfall and tended to be bluer and greener in springs with a lower relative temperature. On the other hand, cuckoo eggs were bluer and greener in springs with a higher rainfall. Cuckoo–host egg matching in blue-greenness and spottiness was better in springs with a higher rainfall. These results provide support for the existence of an environmental component on bird egg coloration and suggest that environmental factors may potentially affect the outcome of important features of the arms race between cuckoos and reed warblers.


Avian egg coloration Cuckoo–host interaction Environmental effect 



We thank J. Fjeldså and J. Bolding of the ornithological section of the Zoological Museum of the University of Copenhagen for help and facilities during data collection. M. Åsmul photographed the clutches and J. J. Soler and I. C. Cuthill made very useful suggestions on a previous draft of the manuscript. M. Soler and two anonymous referees also made very useful suggestions on a previous draft of the manuscript. This research was funded by a European Community Postdoctoral Grant (MCFI-2000-00023) to J. M. A. and by the Research Council of Norway (grant no. 151641/432) to B. G. S. The Danish Meteorological Institute kindly provided access to weather data.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jesús M. Avilés
    • 1
  • Bård G. Stokke
    • 2
  • Arne Moksnes
    • 2
  • Eivin Røskaft
    • 2
  • Anders P. Møller
    • 3
  1. 1.Estación Experimental de Zonas Áridas (C.S.I.C)AlmeríaSpain
  2. 2.Department of BiologyNorwegian University of Science and Technology, NTNUTrondheimNorway
  3. 3.Laboratorie de Parasitologie Evolutive, CNRS UMR 7103Université Pierre et Marie CurieParis Cedex 05France

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