Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 58, Issue 6, pp 608–617 | Cite as

Should the redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus accept or reject cuckoo Cuculus canorus eggs?

  • Jesús M. AvilésEmail author
  • Jarkko Rutila
  • Anders Pape Møller
Original Article


Hole-nesting habits of redstarts Phoenicurus phoenicurus make laying difficult for parasitic cuckoo Cuculus canorus females and eviction of host eggs difficult for the cuckoo hatchling, causing fitness costs of cuckoo parasitism to be lower than those reported for open nesting hosts. Redstarts have recognition problems when confronted with real cuckoo eggs showing a perfect mimicry with their own eggs since they never eject when parasitized with perfect mimetic cuckoo eggs but instead desert the nest. Here we use a cost-benefit model to assess the effects of parasitism costs and the probability of being parasitized to estimate the reproductive success of redstarts when accepting or rejecting in the presence or absence of parasitism. Baseline data for model calculations come from this and a previous study on a cuckoo parasitized redstart population in Finland. When desertion implies a loss of 50%, we found that below a threshold value of 20% parasitism redstarts should accept cuckoo eggs since the costs of rejection exceed the benefits, whereas above this threshold they should reject. Interestingly, as the cost of desertion increases the threshold value, it should pay the redstart to reject increasingly at an exponential rate. Our field observations on natural parasitism and experiments with artificial cuckoo eggs confirmed the predictions from the model when hatching failures of the cuckoo were taken into account. Therefore, the low cost imposed by cuckoo parasitism in the system, and the presumably high cost of desertion as a response to parasitism favours acceptance over rejection for a wide range of parasitism pressures. This finding could explain the low rejection rate of real cuckoo eggs found in the redstart despite the presumably long history of a coevolutionary relationship with the cuckoo in Finland.


Common cuckoo Cost-benefit model Hole nesting Recognition errors Redstart 



Deseada Parejo, Nick Davies, Eivin Røskaft, Arne Moksnes and four anonymous referees made very useful suggestions on previous drafts. Raimo Latja and Kimmo Koskela helped in the field and provided us with some unpublished material. This research was funded by a European Community Postdoctoral Grant (MCFI-2000-00023) to J.M.A. and by the Faculty of Science of the University of Joensuu to J. R. This experiment complies with the current laws on birds of Finland


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jesús M. Avilés
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Jarkko Rutila
    • 2
  • Anders Pape Møller
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire de Parasitologie Evolutive, CNRS UMR 7103Université Pierre et Marie CurieParis Cedex 05France
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of JoensuuJoensuuFinland
  3. 3.Departamento de Ecología Funcional y EvolutivaEstación Experimental de Zonas Áridas, C.S.I.C.AlmeríaSpain

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