Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 149, Issue 3, pp 313–321

UV reflectance of eggs of brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) and accepter and rejecter hosts

Original Article

Abstract

Many hosts of obligate brood parasites accept parasitic eggs despite the high costs of parasitism. Acceptance is particularly perplexing in brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) (hereafter “cowbird”) hosts because the eggs of cowbirds and most hosts do not appear to match closely in visual characteristics detectable by humans. However, recent evidence suggests that parasite and host eggs may match in their ultraviolet (UV) reflectance, undetectable by humans, and that birds may use UV signals for egg discrimination. We determined whether egg colour matching in UV reflectance separates accepters and rejecters of cowbird parasitism by comparing the total UV (300–400 nm) reflectance of the eggs of 11 host species to cowbird eggs. Eggs of three of five accepter species and five of five rejecter species differed significantly from cowbird eggs in UV reflectance. We found no significant difference in the UV reflectance of the eggs of three closely related pairs of accepter and rejecter species. There also was no significant difference in the UV reflectance of cowbird eggs laid in nests of five host species, and the UV reflectance of cowbird eggs was not significantly correlated with that of host clutches. Thus, we found no support for the UV-matching hypothesis in brown-headed cowbirds and UV reflectance does not appear to separate accepters and rejecters of parasitism. Differences in UV reflectance between cowbird and host eggs, however, provide potential cues for use in egg discrimination. Experimental testing is needed to determine the relative importance of UV reflectance compared to other visual cues.

Keywords

Brood parasitism UV reflectance Egg discrimination Brown-headed cowbird Molothrus ater 

References

  1. Altshuler DL (2001) Ultraviolet reflectance in fruits, ambient light composition and fruit removal in a tropical forest. Evol Ecol Res 3:767–778Google Scholar
  2. Alvarez F, Arias de Reyna L, Segura M (1976) Experimental brood parasitism of the magpie (Pica pica). Anim Behav 24:907–916CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andersson S, Amundsen T (1997) Ultraviolet colour vision and ornamentation in bluethroats. Proc R Soc Lond B 264:1587–1591CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Avilés JM, Soler JJ, Pérez-Contreras T, Soler M, Møller AP (2006) Ultraviolet reflectance of great spotted cuckoo eggs and egg discrimination by magpies. Behav Ecol 17:310–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Banks AN (2001) For your eyes only? The role of UV in mate choice. Trends Ecol Evol 16:473–474CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bennett ATD, Cuthill IC, Partridge JC, Maier EJ (1996) Ultraviolet vision and mate choice in Zebra Finches. Nature 380:433–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Briskie JV, Sealy SG (1987) Responses of least flycatchers to experimental inter- and intraspecific brood parasitism. Condor 89:899–901CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brooke MdeL, Davies NB (1988) Egg mimicry by cuckoos Cuculus canorus in relation to discrimination by hosts. Nature 335:630–632CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Burkhardt D (1982) Birds, berries and UV. Naturwissenschaften 69:153–157PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chen D-M, Goldsmith TH (1986) Four spectral classes of cone in the retinas of birds. J Comp Phys A 159:473–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chen D-M, Collins JS, Goldsmith TH (1984) The ultraviolet receptor of bird retinas. Science 225:337–340PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cherry MI, Bennett ATD (2001) Egg colour matching in an African cuckoo, as revealed by ultraviolet–visible reflectance spectrophotometry. Proc R Soc Lond B 268:565–571CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cuthill IC, Partridge JC, Bennett ATD, Church SC, Hart NS, Hunt S (2000) Ultraviolet vision in birds. Adv Study Behav 29:159–214Google Scholar
  14. Davies NB (1999) Cuckoos and cowbirds versus hosts: co-evolutionary lag and equilibrium. Ostrich 70:71–79Google Scholar
  15. Davies NB, Brooke MdeL (1988) Cuckoos versus reed warblers: adaptations and counteradaptations. Anim Behav 36:262–284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Davies NB, Brooke MdeL (1989) An experimental study of co-evolution between the cuckoo, Cuculus canorus, and its hosts. I. Host egg discrimination. J Anim Ecol 58:207–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fleischer RC (1985) A new technique to identify and assess the dispersion of eggs of individual brood parasites. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 17:91–99Google Scholar
  18. Friedmann H, Kiff LF (1985) The parasitic cowbirds and their hosts. Proc West Found Vert Zool 2:225–304Google Scholar
  19. Gibbs HL, Miller P, Alderson G, Sealy SG (1997) Genetic analysis of brown-headed cowbirds Molothrus ater raised by different hosts: data from mtDNA and microsatellite DNA markers. Mol Ecol 6:189–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Goldsmith TH (1980) Hummingbirds see near ultraviolet light. Science 207:786–788PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hosoi SA, Rothstein SI (2000) Nest desertion and cowbird parasitism: evidence for evolved responses and evolutionary lag. Anim Behav 59:823–840PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Honza M, Kuiper SM, Cherry MI (2005) Behaviour of African turdid hosts towards experimental parasitism with artificial red-chested cuckoo Cuculus solitarius eggs. J Avian Biol 36:517–522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hunt S, Cuthill IC, Bennett ATD, Church SC, Partridge JC (2001) Is the ultraviolet waveband a special communication channel in avian mate choice? J Exp Biol 204:2499–2507PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Jacobs GH (1993) The distribution and nature of colour vision among the mammals. Biol Rev 68:413–471PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kreithen ML, Eisner T (1978) Ultraviolet light detection by the homing pigeon. Nature 272:347–348PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lahti DC, Lahti AR (2002) How precise is egg discrimination in weaverbirds? Anim Behav 63:1135–1142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lokemoen JT, Koford RR (1996) Using candlers to determine the incubation stage of passerine eggs. J Field Ornithol 67:660–668Google Scholar
  28. Lorenzana JC, Sealy SG (2001) Fitness costs and benefits of cowbird ejection by gray catbirds. Behav Ecol 12:325–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lotem A, Nakamura H (1998) Evolutionary equilibria in avian brood parasitism: an alternative to the “arms race-evolutionary lag” concept. In: Rothstein SI, Robinson SK (eds) Parasitic birds and their hosts: studies in coevolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 223–235Google Scholar
  30. MacKenzie DI (1982) The dune-ridge forest, Delta Marsh, Manitoba: overstory vegetation and soil patterns. Can Field Nat 96:61–68Google Scholar
  31. Marchetti K (2000) Egg rejection in a passerine bird: size does matter. Anim Behav 59:877–883PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mason P, Rothstein SI (1986) Coevolution and avian brood parasitism: cowbird eggs show evolutionary response to host discrimination. Evolution 40:1207–1214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McLaren CM, Woolfenden BE, Gibbs HL, Sealy SG (2003) Genetic and temporal patterns of multiple parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) on song sparrows (Melospiza melodia). Can J Zool 81:281–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McNett GD, Marchetti K (2005) Ultraviolet degradation in carotenoid patches: live versus museum specimens of wood warblers (Parulidae). Auk 122:793–802CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Moksnes A, Røskaft E (1995) Egg-morphs and host preference in the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus): an analysis of cuckoo and host eggs from European museum collections. J Zool Lond 236:625–648CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Parrish JW, Ptacek JA, Will KL (1984) The detection of near-ultraviolet light by nonmigratory and migratory birds. Auk 101:53–58Google Scholar
  37. Peer BD, Robinson SK, Herkert JR (2000) Egg rejection by cowbird hosts in grasslands. Auk 117:892–901CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rohwer S, Spaw CD (1988) Evolutionary lag versus bill-size constraints: a comparative study of the acceptance of cowbird eggs by old hosts. Evol Ecol 2:27–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rothstein SI (1975) An experimental and teleonomic investigation of avian brood parasitism. Condor 77:250–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rothstein SI (1982) Mechanisms of avian egg recognition: which egg parameters elicit responses by rejecter species? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 11:229–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rothstein SI (1990) A model system for coevolution: avian brood parasitism. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 21:481–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rothstein SI (1992) Brood parasitism, the importance of experiments and host defences of avifaunas on different continents. In: Bennun L (ed) Proceedings of the VII Pan-African Ornithological Congress. Pan-African Ornithological Congress Organising Committee, Nairobi, Kenya, pp 521–535Google Scholar
  43. Sealy SG (1995) Burial of cowbird eggs by parasitized yellow warblers: an empirical and experimental study. Anim Behav 49:877–889CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sealy SG (1996) Evolution of host defenses against brood parasitism: implications of puncture-ejection by a small passerine. Auk 113:346–355Google Scholar
  45. Sealy SG, Bazin RC (1995) Low frequency of observed cowbird parasitism on Eastern Kingbirds: host rejection, effective nest defence, or parasite avoidance? Behav Ecol 6:140–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sealy SG, Lorenzana JC (1998) Yellow warblers (Dendroica petechia) do not recognize their own eggs. Bird Behav 12:57–66Google Scholar
  47. Sealy SG, Neudorf DL (1995) Male northern orioles eject cowbird eggs: implications for the evolution of rejection behavior. Condor 97:369–375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sealy SG, Underwood TJ (2004) Rejecters and accepters of cowbird parasitism among the New World orioles (Icterus spp.). Ornitol Neotrop 15:331–347Google Scholar
  49. Sealy SG, Banks AJ, Chace JF 2000 Two subspecies of warbling vireo differ in their responses to cowbird eggs. West Birds 31:190–194Google Scholar
  50. Tovée MJ (1995) Ultra-violet photoreceptors in the animal kingdom: their distribution and function. Trends Ecol Evol 10:455–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Underwood TJ, Sealy SG (2002) Adaptive significance of egg colouration. In: Deeming DC (ed) Avian incubation: behaviour, environment, and evolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 280–298Google Scholar
  52. Underwood TJ, Sealy SG (2006a) Grasp-ejection in two small ejecters of cowbird eggs: a test of bill-size constraints and the evolutionary equilibrium hypothesis. Anim Behav 71:409–416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Underwood TJ, Sealy SG (2006b) Influence of shape on egg discrimination in American robins and gray catbirds. Ethology 112:164–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Underwood TJ, Sealy SG (2006c) Parameters of brown-headed cowbird Molothrus ater egg discrimination in warbling vireos Vireo gilvus. J Avian Biol 37:457–466CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Viitala J, Korpimäki E, Palokangas P, Koivula M (1995) Attraction of kestrels to vole scent marks visible in ultraviolet light. Nature 373:425–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Willson MF, Whelan CJ (1989) Ultraviolet reflectance of fruits of vertebrate-dispersed plants. Oikos 55:341–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Woolfenden BE, Gibbs HL, Sealy SG, McMaster DG (2003) Host use and fecundity of individual female brown-headed cowbirds. Anim Behav 66:95–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada
  2. 2.Department of BiologyKutztown UniversityKutztownUSA

Personalised recommendations