Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 70, Issue 11, pp 1975–1987 | Cite as

Do common cuckoo chicks suffer nest predation more than host nestlings?

  • Václav JelínekEmail author
  • Tereza Karasová
  • Karel Weidinger
  • Petr Procházka
  • Marcel Honza
Original Article


Nestlings of brood parasites exhibit more intensive begging than offspring of their hosts to gain sufficient amount of food or competitive advantage over host nestlings. This begging behaviour should be costly because exuberant acoustic begging may more likely attract nest predators. However, to date, nobody has explored the survival of nests with and without chicks of brood parasites in the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) host system. Here, we analysed an extensive dataset of 817 great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) and 788 reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) nests to explore the relationships between nest predation and parasitism status (parasitized vs. non-parasitized), nest contents (cuckoo chick vs. host nestlings) and age of nestlings. We found that although parasitized nests had higher predation rate than non-parasitized nests in the incubation stage, the effect of original parasitism status almost disappeared in the nestling stage. In both host species, nests with younger cuckoo chicks survived similarly to nests with host nestlings of the same age (till the ninth day of age). Later on, however, nest contents influenced nest predation in each species differently. While nests with older cuckoo chicks (from the ninth to the 17th day of age) did not survive worse that host nestlings in the great reed warbler, older cuckoos survived much worse than host nestlings in reed warbler nests. Finally, nest survival decreased with nestling age in all three species. Thus, it seems that common cuckoo chicks can be penalized for more intensive begging only in nests of smaller reed warbler hosts.

Significance statement

Parental feeding of young is in birds frequently accompanied by striking nestlings begging behaviour serving as a signal of their need. Brood parasites exhibit even more intense food solicitation than their hosts which may attract predators to the nest. However, this hypothesis has never been tested in a widely studied brood parasite species—the common cuckoo. Here, we analysed survival of more than 1600 nests of its two main host species. We found that nests containing older common cuckoo chicks were depredated more frequently than nests with host own nestlings only in the smaller reed warbler hosts but not in the larger and more aggressive great reed warblers. This shows that the intensity of begging could be costly in terms of nest predation at least in some common cuckoo host species.


Brood parasitism Great reed warbler Nest survival Reed warbler 



We would like to thank Milica Požgayová, Miroslav Čapek, Marek M. Abraham, Radovan Beňo, Petra Baslerová, Lucie Halová, Jaroslav Koleček, Klára Morongová, Peter Samaš, Kateřina Sosnovcová, Zuzana Šebelíková and Michal Šulc for their assistance in the field; Zdeněk Faltýnek Fric for his help with the programme MARK; and Miloš Krist and anonymous referees for their comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. We are also grateful to the managers of the Hodonín Fish Farm for the permission to conduct the fieldwork on their grounds.

Compliance with ethical standards


This study was supported by the Czech Science Foundation (grant number P506/12/2404) and by the institutional support of Institute of Vertebrate Biology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, v.v.i. (RVO: 68081766).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. Bird catching, ringing and nest checking were conducted under licence (numbers 906, 1050 and 1058) and followed rules issued by the Czech Bird Ringing Centre.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Václav Jelínek
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Tereza Karasová
    • 1
  • Karel Weidinger
    • 3
  • Petr Procházka
    • 1
  • Marcel Honza
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Vertebrate BiologyAcademy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicBrnoCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Ecology, Faculty of ScienceCharles University in PraguePrague 2Czech Republic
  3. 3.Department of Zoology and Laboratory of Ornithology, Faculty of SciencePalacký UniversityOlomoucCzech Republic

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