Parent-absent begging and the risk of nest predation

  • Václav Jelínek
  • Michal Šulc
  • Karel Weidinger
  • Marcel Honza
Original Article


Despite the fact that parent-absent begging (PAB) has been studied as a communication tool during competition between nestlings for food or as a signal of need, its role in nest predation has been poorly investigated. In this study we examined whether the natural level of Common Cuckoo (hereafter “Cuckoo”) PAB increases the risk of artificial nest predation (n = 48) by using three types of experimental playback of parent-present begging (PPB) which differ in the presence or absence of additional PPB, PAB or periods of silence. Contrary to our predictions, we did not find a significant difference in daily survival rates between PPB + PAB vs. PPB + PPB nests or between PPB + PAB vs. PPB + silence nests, indicating that the natural level of Cuckoo PAB did not influence nest vulnerability to predation. Moreover, we did not find a significant difference between nests with any of the types of playback and completely silent control nests, suggesting that not only PAB, but also begging behaviour itself, does not present an important predation cost for nestlings, at least not in cases when nestlings beg at the natural level used in our experiment. As we filmed all experimental nests during their exposure to predators, we were able to show that eight of 20 filmed nest-predation events were caused by predators that never or rarely predate upon passerine nests. Excluding predation events by these unlikely predators, however, did not change our original results. Nonetheless, we advocate direct identification of nest predators to strengthen the interpretation of future studies on the predation cost of begging.


Acoustic solicitation Begging loudness Begging frequency Common Cuckoo Nest predator Nest survival 


Bettelverhalten in Abwesenheit der Eltern und das Nestprädationsrisiko

Trotz der Tatsache, dass Bettelverhalten in Abwesenheit der Elternvögel (engl.: parent-absent begging, PAB) als Kommunikationsmittel im Wettstreit der Nestlinge um die Nahrung oder als Anzeigen eines Bedürfnisses untersucht wurde, ist dessen Bedeutung für die Nestprädation kaum erforscht. Anhand von Playbackversuchen mit Bettelrufen in Anwesenheit der Elternvögel (engl.: parent-present begging, PPB), welche sich durch das Vorhandensein beziehungsweise Fehlen zusätzlicher PPB, PAB oder Stille unterschieden, untersuchten wir, ob das natürliche Ausmaß an PAB bei Kuckucken das Risiko künstlicher Nestprädation (n = 48) erhöht. Anders als erwartet stellten wir keinen signifikanten Unterschied in den täglichen Überlebensraten (engl.: daily survival rates, DSR) zwischen Nestern mit PPB + PAB und PPB + PPB beziehungsweise solchen mit PPB + PAB und PPB + Stille fest, was ein Zeichen dafür ist, dass das natürliche Ausmaß von PAB bei Kuckucken die Prädationsanfälligkeit der Nester nicht beeinflusste. Des Weiteren gab es keine signifikanten Unterschiede zwischen Nestern mit jeglicher Form von Playback und den völlig lautlosen Kontrollnestern, was darauf hindeutet, dass weder das PAB noch das Bettelverhalten an sich für die Nestlinge einen deutlichen Prädationskostenfaktor darstellt, wenn sie in dem in unserem Versuch verwendeten natürlichen Ausmaß betteln. Da alle Versuchsnester während der Experimente gefilmt wurden, konnten wir zeigen, dass acht der 20 gefilmten Nestraubereignisse durch Prädatoren verursacht wurden, welche selten oder nie Singvogelnester prädieren. Der Ausschluss der Prädationsereignisse durch diese untypischen Prädatoren änderte unsere Originalergebnisse jedoch nicht. Nichtsdestotrotz raten wir bei zukünftigen Studien zu den durch Prädation verursachten Kosten des Bettelverhaltens wegen der besseren Untermauerung der Interpretation zur direkten Bestimmung von Nesträubern.



We would like to thank Petr Procházka, Milica Požgayová, Mirek Čapek and Klára Žabková for their assistance in the field; Klára Žabková and Marián Polák for their help with preparation of the recordings for analyis and Fig. 1; Tereza Karasová for Cuckoo loudness data; Alfréd Trnka for providing Greenfinch and Linnet eggs, and Marek Mihai Abraham for data on the frequency of both types of Cuckoo begging. We are also grateful to the managers of the Hodonín Fish Farm for permission to conduct the fieldwork on their grounds, and to the managers of Lesy ČR, S. P. Department Strážnice for permission to enter the woods by car. This study was supported by the Czech Science Foundation (grant number GACR 17-12262S).

Supplementary material

10336_2018_1608_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (12 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 11 kb)


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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Vertebrate Biology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicBrnoCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Zoology and Laboratory of Ornithology, Faculty of SciencePalacký UniversityOlomoucCzech Republic

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