Skip to main content

Female cuckoo calls elicit anti-predatory behavior in birds

Abstract

Imperfect Batesian mimicry is common in nature. Female common cuckoos (Cuculus canorus), for instance, seem to be imperfect mimics of hawks (Accipiter spp.) in both appearance and call. However, only few experiments have confirmed that female cuckoos can effectively mimic sparrowhawk calls. To test the effectiveness of female common cuckoos mimicking the call of hawks, we performed a playback experiment on two host bird species, namely the Oriental magpie-robin (Copsychus saularis) and white wagtail (Motacilla alba), and two potential host bird species, the crested myna (Acridotheres cristatellus) and Eurasian hoopoe (Upupa epops), during the non-breeding season in Hainan island, China. We found that while there are significant differences in the likelihood that different species respond to playback call types, they do not differ in how they respond to the different calls, and that overall, the birds are more likely to respond to female cuckoo and hawk calls than to dove or male cuckoo calls, and with no significant difference between hawk and female cuckoo. Our results show that although female common cuckoos mimic the call of sparrowhawks imperfectly, they can mislead birds into displaying anti-predatory behavior. This study provides further evidence to support the recently proposed hypothesis that hawk mimicry in female cuckoo calls can not only fool their hosts, but also the non-host species.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available in the supplementary material of this article.

References

  1. Abernathy VE, Troscianko J, Langmore NE (2017) Egg mimicry by the pacific koel: mimicry of one host facilitates exploitation of other hosts with similar egg types. J Avian Biol 48:1414–1424

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bates HW (1862) Contributions to an insect fauna of the Amazon valley. Lepidoptera: Heliconidae. Trans Linn Soc Lond 23:495–566

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Blumstein DT (2006) Developing an evolutionary ecology of fear: how life history and natural history traits affect disturbance tolerance in birds. Anim Behav 71:389–399

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Chu M (2001) Vocal mimicry in distress calls of phainopeplas. Condor 103:389–395

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cushing PE (1997) Myrmecomorphy and myrmecophily in spiders: a review. Fla Entomol 80:165–193

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Davies NB, Welbergen JA (2008) Cuckoo-hawk mimicry? An experimental test. Proc R Soc Lond b: Biol Sci 275:1817–1822

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. De Neve L, Ibañez-Alamo JD, Soler M (2010) Age-and sex-related morphological and physiological differences influence escape capacity in house sparrows (Passer domesticus). Can J Zool 88:1021–1031

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Edmunds M (2000) Why are there good and poor mimics? Biol J Linn Soc 70:459–466

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Farrow LF, Barati A, McDonald PG (2019) Cooperative bird discriminates between individuals based purely on their aerial alarm calls. Behav Ecol 31:440–447

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Flower T (2011) Fork-tailed drongos use deceptive mimicked alarm calls to steal food. Proc R Soc b: Biol Sci 278:1548–1555

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Font E (2019) Mimicry, camouflage and perceptual exploitation: the evolution of deception in nature. Biosemiotics 12:7–24

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Jiang X, Zhang C, Liu J, Liang W (2021) Female cuckoo calls elicit vigilance and escape responses from wild free-range chickens. Ethol Ecol Evol 33:37–48

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Kelley LA, Coe RL, Madden JR, Healy SD (2008) Vocal mimicry in songbirds. Anim Behav 76:521–528

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Kikuchi DW, Pfennig DW (2010) Predator cognition permits imperfect coral snake mimicry. Am Nat 176:830–834

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Langmore NE, Hunt S, Kilner RM (2003) Escalation of a coevolutionary arms race through host rejection of brood parasitic young. Nature 422:157–160

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Ma L, Yang C, Liang W (2018) Hawk mimicry does not reduce attacks of cuckoos by highly aggressive hosts. Avian Res 9:35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Maran T (2017) Mimicry and meaning: structure and semiotics of biological mimicry. Springer, Berlin

    Book  Google Scholar 

  18. Mendelsohn JM, Jaksić FM (1989) Hunting behaviour of black-shouldered kites in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Australia. Ostrich 60:1–12

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Meshcheryagina SG, Mashanova A, Bachurin GN, Mitiay IS, Golovatin MG (2018) Host species determines egg size in Oriental cuckoo. J Zool 306:147–155

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Morton ES (1976) Vocal mimicry in the thick-billed euphonia. Wilson Bull 88:485–487

    Google Scholar 

  21. Penney HD, Hassall C, Skevington JH, Lamborn B, Sherratt TN (2014) The relationship between morphological and behavioral mimicry in hover flies (Diptera: Syrphidae). Am Nat 183:281–289

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Pollard KA (2011) Making the most of alarm signals: the adaptive value of individual discrimination in an alarm context. Behav Ecol 22:93–100

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Ruxton GD, Allen WL, Sherratt TN, Speed MP (2018) Avoiding attack: the evolutionary ecology of crypsis, aposematism, and mimicry. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Book  Google Scholar 

  24. Samia DSM, Nakagawa S, Nomura F, Rangel TF, Blumstein DT (2015) Increased tolerance to humans among disturbed wildlife. Nat Commun 6:8877

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Shen C, Yu J, Li X, Yue J, Wang H, Liang W (2021) Responses of incubating females to female cuckoo calls in 2 hole-nesting bird species. Curr Zool. https://doi.org/10.1093/cz/zoab004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Sherratt TN (2002) The evolution of imperfect mimicry. Behav Ecol 13:821–826

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Speed MP, Ruxton GD (2010) Imperfect Batesian mimicry and the conspicuousness costs of mimetic resemblance. Am Nat 176:E1–E14

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Thorogood R, Davies NB (2012) Cuckoos combat socially transmitted defenses of reed warbler hosts with a plumage polymorphism. Science 337:578–580

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Thorogood R, Davies NB (2013) Hawk mimicry and the evolution of polymorphic cuckoos. Chin Birds 4:39–50

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Welbergen JA, Davies NB (2009) Strategic variation in mobbing as a front line of defense against brood parasitism. Curr Biol 19:235–240

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Welbergen JA, Davies NB (2011) A parasite in wolf’s clothing: hawk mimicry reduces mobbing of cuckoos by hosts. Behav Ecol 22:574–579

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Yang C, Yan C, Liang W (2010) Brood parasitism and egg mimicry on brownish-flanked bush warbler (Cettia fortipes) by lesser cuckoo (Cuculus poliocephalus). Zool Res 31:555–560

    Google Scholar 

  33. York JE, Davies NB (2017) Female cuckoo calls misdirect host defences towards the wrong enemy. Nat Ecol Evol 1:1520–1525

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Yu J, Lu H, Sun W, Liang W, Wang H, Møller AP (2019) Heterospecific alarm-call recognition in two warbler hosts of common cuckoos. Anim Cogn 22:1149–1157

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Zheng G (2017) A checklist on the classification and distribution of the birds of China, 3rd edn. Science Press, Beijing

    Google Scholar 

  36. Zhou B, Liang W (2020) Avian escape responses to observers wearing clothing of different colors: a comparison of urban and rural populations. Glob Ecol Conserv 22:e00921

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Funding

This work was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 31772453 and 31970427 to WL).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

WL designed the study; CZ, XJ, ML and JL carried out field experiments; JL performed statistical analyses and made figures; CZ and XJ wrote the draft manuscript and WL revised and improved the manuscript. All authors approved the final submission.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wei Liang.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical approval

The experiments reported here comply with the current laws of China. Fieldwork was carried out without specific permit.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 An example of crested mynas with behaviour of no response to the playback (MP4 8281 KB)

Supplementary file2 An example of crested mynas with vigilance behaviour to the playback (MP4 11117 KB)

Supplementary file3 An example of crested mynas with escape behaviour to the playback (MP4 15988 KB)

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zhang, C., Jiang, X., Li, M. et al. Female cuckoo calls elicit anti-predatory behavior in birds. J Ethol 39, 393–398 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-021-00716-z

Download citation

Keywords

  • Batesian mimicry
  • Sound mimicry
  • Non-breeding season
  • Deception
  • Common cuckoo