Cuckoo–Host Coevolutionary Interactions Across All Breeding Stages: Unusual Ecological Setting of a Cavity-Nesting Host

  • Tomáš GrimEmail author
  • Jarkko Rutila
Part of the Fascinating Life Sciences book series (FLS)


The great majority of brood parasitism studies focused on a single ontogenetic stage, typically egg stage, and on open-nesting hosts, especially those of the common cuckoo. Using extensive data from the cuckoo’s only known regular cavity-nesting host, the common redstart, we highlight the importance of a comprehensive approach when all ontogenetic stages are studied. In contrast to open-nesting hosts, only minority of the cuckoo eggs are a threat to redstart hosts: most are laid outside the host nest cup and perish. Contrary to previous claims, we found that the impact of parasitism per host nest was virtually the same between this only regular cuckoo cavity-nesting host and a typical open-nesting host (the reed warbler): in both species, fitness of an average non-parasitized host nest was by an order of magnitude higher than fitness of an average parasitized host nest. This was partly because of uniquely low eviction success of cuckoo chicks and resulting cohabitation of parasite and host progeny in mixed broods. Data from post-fledging period, which remains the least known stage of parasite–host coevolution in any study system globally, were crucial because they showed that data from nestling period greatly overestimated cuckoo fitness. We suggest that metareplication of these approaches (i.e. integrative study of laying, incubation, nestling, fledgling and migration stages) across various parasite–host systems is the most important task for future coevolutionary studies in the context of brood parasite–host coevolution.



We dedicate this contribution to J. Haikola who initiated the long-term cuckoo research in our study area. We are grateful to M. Kysučan, P. Samaš and Z. Tyller for their work in the field. P. Samaš, R. L. Thomson and J. Tolvanen commented on drafts. The manuscript benefitted from comments by L. de Neve, W. Liang and M. Soler. Our research was supported by the Human Frontier Science Program (RGY69/2007 and RGY83/2012), the Czech Science Foundation (P506/12/2404) and Internal Grant Agency of Palacký University (PrF_2014_018, PrF_2015_018, IGA_PrF_2016_017).


  1. Anderson MG, Moskát C, Bán M, Grim T, Cassey P, Hauber ME (2009) Egg eviction imposes a recoverable cost of virulence in chicks of a brood parasite. PLoS One 4:e7725CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  2. Andou D, Nakamura H, Oomori S, Higuchi H (2005) Characteristics of brood parasitism by common cuckoos on azure-winged magpies, as illustrated by video recordings. Ornithol Sci 4:43–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Avilés JM (2008) Egg colour mimicry in the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus as revealed by modelling host retinal function. Proc R Soc Lond B 275:2345–2352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Avilés JM, Rutila J, Møller AP (2005) Should the redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus accept or reject cuckoo Cuculus canorus eggs? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 58:608–617CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Čapek V (1896) Beiträge zur fortpflanzungsgeschichte des Kuckucks. Ornithol Jahrb 7:41–72, 102–117, 146–157, 165–183Google Scholar
  6. Davies NB (2000) Cuckoo, cowbirds and other cheats. T&AD Poyser, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Davies NB, Brooke ML (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
  8. Davies NB, Madden JR, Butchart SHM, Rutila J (2006) A host-race of the cuckoo Cuculus canorus with nestlings attuned to the parental alarm calls of the host species. Proc R Soc Lond B 273:693–699CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dawkins R, Krebs JR (1979) Arms races between and within species. Proc R Soc Lond B 205:489–511CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Dinets V, Samaš P, Croston R, Grim T, Hauber ME (2015) Predicting the responses of native birds to transoceanic invasions by avian brood parasites. J Field Ornithol 86:244–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fossøy F, Sorenson MD, Liang W, Ekrem T, Moksnes A, Møller AP, Rutila J, Røskaft E, Takasu F, Yang C, Stokke BG (2016) Ancient origin and maternal inheritance of blue cuckoo eggs. Nat Commun 7:10272CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. Fuchs W (1957) Funde von weissen Kuckuckseiern bei Sempach und Einsiedeln. Ornithol Beob 54:136–137Google Scholar
  13. Geltsch N, Hauber ME, Anderson MG, Bán M, Moskát C (2012) Competition with a host nestling for parental provisioning imposes recoverable costs on parasitic cuckoo chick’s growth. Behav Proc 90:378–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Grim T (2006a) Cuckoo growth performance in parasitized and unused hosts: not only host size matters. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 60:716–723CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Grim T (2006b) Low virulence of brood parasitic chicks: adaptation or constraint? Ornithol Sci 5:237–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Grim T (2006c) The evolution of nestling discrimination by hosts of parasitic birds: why is rejection so rare? Evol Ecol Res 8:785–802Google Scholar
  17. Grim T (2007a) Equal rights for chick brood parasites. Ann Zool Fenn 44:1–7Google Scholar
  18. Grim T (2007b) Experimental evidence for chick discrimination without recognition in a brood parasite host. Proc R Soc Lond B 274:373–381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grim T (2008) Wing-shaking and wing-patch as nestling begging strategies: their importance and evolutionary origins. J Ethol 26:9–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grim T (2016) Are cavity nesters really unsuitable hosts for the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)? An experiment with the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) and collared flycatcher (Ficedula albicollis). Sylvia 52:53–66Google Scholar
  21. Grim T (2017) Chick discrimination versus adaptive parasitic egg acceptance: the egg dilution effect hypothesis revisited. Ornithol Sci 16:163–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Grim T, Honza M (2001) Does supernormal stimulus influence parental behaviour of the cuckoo’s host? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 49:322–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Grim T, Samaš P (2016) Growth performance of nestling cuckoos Cuculus canorus in cavity nesting hosts. Acta Ornithol 51:175–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Grim T, Kleven O, Mikulica O (2003) Nestling discrimination without recognition: a possible defence mechanism for hosts towards cuckoo parasitism? Proc R Soc Lond B 270:S73–S75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Grim T, Rutila J, Cassey P, Hauber ME (2009a) Experimentally constrained virulence is costly for common cuckoo chicks. Ethology 115:14–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grim T, Rutila J, Cassey P, Hauber ME (2009b) The cost of virulence: an experimental study of egg eviction by brood parasitic chicks. Behav Ecol 20:1138–1146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Grim T, Samaš P, Moskát C, Kleven O, Honza M, Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Stokke BG (2011) Constraints on host choice: why do parasitic birds rarely exploit some common potential hosts? J Anim Ecol 80:508–518CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Grim T, Samaš P, Procházka P, Rutila J (2014) Are tits really unsuitable hosts for the common cuckoo? Ornis Fenn 91:166–177Google Scholar
  29. Grim T, Tyller Z, Samaš P (2017) Unusual diet of brood parasite nestlings and its fitness consequences. Auk 134(3):732–750CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Haikola J, Rutila J (2008) Käki. Otava, HelsinkiGoogle Scholar
  31. Hanley D, Grim T, Igic B, Samaš P, López AV, Shawkey MD, Hauber ME (2017) Egg discrimination along a gradient of natural variation in eggshell coloration. Proc R Soc Lond B 284:20162592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hauber ME, Moskát C (2008) Shared parental care is costly for nestlings of common cuckoos and their great reed warbler hosts. Behav Ecol 19:79–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hauber ME, Samaš P, Anderson MG, Rutila J, Low J, Cassey P, Grim T (2014) Life-history theory predicts host behavioural responses to experimental brood parasitism. Ethol Ecol Evol 26:349–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Honza M, Vošlajerová K, Moskát C (2007) Eviction behaviour of the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus chicks. J Avian Biol 38:385–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Igic B, Braganza K, Hyland MM, Silyn-Roberts H, Cassey P, Grim T, Rutila J, Moskát C, Hauber ME (2011) Alternative mechanisms of increased eggshell hardness of avian brood parasites relative to host species. J R Soc Interface 8:1654–1664CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  36. Igic B, Cassey P, Grim T, Greenwood DR, Moskát C, Rutila J, Hauber ME (2012) A shared chemical basis of avian host–parasite egg colour mimicry. Proc R Soc Lond B 279:1068–1076CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Igic B, Zarate E, Sewell MA, Moskát C, Cassey P, Rutila J, Grim T, Shawkey MD, Hauber ME (2015) A comparison of egg yolk lipid constituents between parasitic common cuckoos and their hosts. Auk 132:817–825CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kleven O, Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Rudolfsen G, Stokke BG, Honza M (2004) Breeding success of common cuckoos Cuculus canorus parasitising four sympatric species of Acrocephalus warblers. J Avian Biol 35:394–398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Liang W, Møller AP, Stokke BG, Yang C, Kovařík P, Wang H, Yao C-T, Ding P, Lu X, Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Grim T (2016) Geographic variation in egg ejection rate by great tits across 2 continents. Behav Ecol 27:1405–1412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Löhrl H (1979) Untersuchungen am Kuckuck, Cuculus canorus (Biologie, Ethologie und Morphologie). J Ornithol 120:139–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Martín-Gálvez D, Soler M, Soler JJ, Martín-Vivaldi M, Palomino JJ (2005) Food acquisition by common cuckoo chicks in rufous bush robin nests and the advantage of eviction behaviour. Anim Behav 70:1313–1321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mikulica O, Grim T, Schulze-Hagen K, Stokke BG (2017) The cuckoo: the uninvited guest. Wild Nature Press, PlymouthGoogle Scholar
  43. Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Braa AT, Korsnes L, Lampe HM, Pedersen HC (1991) Behavioural responses of potential hosts towards artificial cuckoo eggs and dummies. Behaviour 116:64–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Tysse T (1995) On the evolution of blue cuckoo eggs in Europe. J Avian Biol 26:13–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Hagen LG, Honza M, Mørk C, Olsen PH (2000) Common cuckoo Cuculus canorus and host behaviour at reed warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus nests. Ibis 142:247–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Øien IJ, Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Honza M (1998) Costs of cuckoo Cuculus canorus parasitism to reed warblers Acrocephalus scirpaceus. J Avian Biol 29:209–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Požgayová M, Beňo R, Procházka P, Jelínek V, Abraham MM, Honza M (2015) Lazy males and hardworking females? Sexual conflict over parental care in a brood parasite host and its consequences for chick growth. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 69:1053–1061CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rutila J (2004) Brood parasitism in birds: coevolutionary adaptations in two cuckoo host systems. Dissertation, University of JoensuuGoogle Scholar
  49. Rutila J, Latja R, Koskela K (2002) The common cuckoo Cuculus canorus and its cavity nesting host, the redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus: a peculiar cuckoo-host system? J Avian Biol 33:414–419CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rutila J, Jokimäki J, Avilés JM, Kaisanlahti-Jokimäki ML (2006) Responses of parasitized and unparasitized common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) populations against artificial cuckoo parasitism. Auk 123:259–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Samas P, Hauber ME, Cassey P, Grim T (2014) Host responses to interspecific brood parasitism: a by-product of adaptations to conspecific parasitism? Front Zool 11:34CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  52. Samaš P, Rutila J, Grim T (2016) The common redstart as a suitable model to study cuckoo-host coevolution in a unique ecological context. BMC Evol Biol 16:255CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  53. Soler M, Soler JJ (1999) Innate versus learned recognition of conspecifics in great spotted cuckoos Clamator glandarius. Anim Cogn 2:97–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Soler M, de Neve L, Roncalli G, Macías-Sánchez E, Ibáñez-Álamo JD, Pérez-Contreras T (2014) Great spotted cuckoo fledglings are disadvantaged by magpie host parents when reared together with magpie nestlings. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 68:333–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Stoddard MC, Stevens M (2011) Avian vision and the evolution of egg color mimicry in the common cuckoo. Evolution 65:2004–2013CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Stokke BG, Hafstad I, Rudolfsen G, Moksnes A, Møller AP, Røskaft E, Soler M (2008) Predictors of resistance to brood parasitism within and among reed warbler populations. Behav Ecol 19:612–620CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Stokke BG, Røskaft E, Moksnes A, Møller AP, Antonov A, Fossøy F, Liang W, López-Iborra G, Moskát C, Shykoff JA, Soler M, Vikan JR, Yang C, Takasu F (2016) Disappearance of eggs from nonparasitized nests of brood parasite hosts: the evolutionary equilibrium hypothesis revisited. Biol J Linn Soc 118:215–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Thomson RL, Tolvanen J, Forsman JT (2016) Cuckoo parasitism in a cavity nesting host: near absent egg-rejection in a northern redstart population under heavy apparent (but low effective) brood parasitism. J Avian Biol 47:363–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Tolvanen J, Forsman JT, Thomson RL (2017) Reducing cuckoo parasitism risk via informed habitat choices. Auk 134:553–563CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Trnka A, Grim T (2013) Color plumage polymorphism and predator mimicry in brood parasites. Front Zool 10:25CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  61. Tyller Z, Kysučan M, Grim T (2018) Post-fledging behavior of the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) attended by the chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs): a comprehensive approach to study the least known stage of brood parasite-host coevolution. Wilson J Ornithol 130Google Scholar
  62. Vega ML, Willemoes M, Thomson RL, Tolvanen J, Rutila J, Samaš P, Strandberg R, Grim T, Fossøy F, Stokke BG, Thorup K (2016) First-time migration in juvenile common cuckoos documented by satellite tracking. PLoS One 11:e0168940CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  63. von Haartman L (1969) The nesting habits of Finnish birds. I. Passeriformes. Soc Scient Fenn Comm Biologicae 32:1–187Google Scholar
  64. von Haartman L (1981) Coevolution of the cuckoo Cuculus canorus and a regular cuckoo host. Ornis Fenn 58:1–10Google Scholar
  65. Wyllie I (1981) The cuckoo. Batsford, LondonGoogle Scholar
  66. Yang C, Liang W, Cai Y, Shi S, Takasu F, Møller AP, Antonov A, Fossøy F, Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Stokke BG (2010) Coevolution in action: disruptive selection on egg colour in an avian brood parasite and its host. PLoS One 5:e10816CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  67. Yang C, Stokke BG, Antonov A, Cai Y, Shi S, Moksnes A, Røskaft E, Møller AP, Liang W, Grim T (2013) Host selection in parasitic birds: are open-cup nesting insectivorous passerines always suitable cuckoo hosts? J Avian Biol 44:216–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Yang C, Li Z, Zhang Y, Wang H, Liang W, Møller AP (2016) Egg polymorphism and egg discrimination in the Daurian redstart Phoenicurus auroreus, a host of the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus. Ornithol Sci 15:127–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Zanette LY, White AF, Allen MC, Clinchy M (2011) Perceived predation risk reduces the number of offspring songbirds produce per year. Science 334:1398–1401CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology and Laboratory of OrnithologyPalacký UniversityOlomoucCzech Republic
  2. 2.Näätäkarankatu 14 B 9LappeenrantaFinland

Personalised recommendations