Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 879–891 | Cite as

Choosing suitable hosts: common cuckoos Cuculus canorus parasitize great reed warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus of high quality

  • Lenka PolačikováEmail author
  • Petr Procházka
  • Michael I. Cherry
  • Marcel Honza
Original Paper


We investigated the hypothesis that the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus selects host pairs of good phenotypic quality. As there is some evidence that cuckoos may select hosts within a population non-randomly based on external cues reflecting their foster abilities, we predicted that great reed warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus pairs parasitized by the cuckoo would exhibit higher quality than unparasitized ones. To test this assumption, we evaluated two different parameters indicating host quality: body condition and characteristics of host eggs. We found that parasitized females showed significantly better body condition than unparasitized ones, and the model showed that the probability of being parasitized by the cuckoos increased with increasing body condition. Moreover, the likelihood of being parasitized by a cuckoo within the great reed warbler population increased with decreasing colour variability within clutches: parasitized females allocated costly blue pigments to eggshells more equally compared with unparasitized ones. Our study revealed that cuckoos parasitize great reed warbler females of higher quality, as reflected in host body condition and egg colour characteristics. In highly mimetic systems, cuckoos may choose to parasitize hosts with eggs displaying low intraclutch variation, both because this leads to reduced rejection and because these hosts are of high quality.


Brood parasitism Cuckoo Host quality Host selection Spectrophotometry 



Experiments were conducted in accordance with current laws of the Czech Republic and the Academy of Sciences Animal Care Protocol. Thanks are due to M. Požgayová and D. Fainová for various contributions to this work, and to T. Grim and the anonymous referees for their constructive comments. LP suggested the work, run the experiments, processed data and wrote the manuscript. LP’s fieldwork was covered by the project no. 524/05/H536 and by the Masaryk University rector’s programme for students’ creative activity. LP and PP analyzed data. PP ran the experiments, discussed the data processing and writing the manuscript. MIC assisted with interpretation of results and in writing the manuscript. MH ran the experiments and financed the study (grant nos. IAA600930605, LC06073).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lenka Polačiková
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Petr Procházka
    • 1
  • Michael I. Cherry
    • 3
  • Marcel Honza
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Vertebrate Biology, v. v. i.Academy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicBrnoCzech Republic
  2. 2.Institute of Botany and Zoology, Faculty of ScienceMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic
  3. 3.Department of Botany and ZoologyStellenbosch UniversityMatielandSouth Africa

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