Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Egg Rejection

  • William E. FeeneyEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_2678-1



A well-studied defense against avian brood parasitism in which a host “rejects” a brood parasite’s egg – either through physical ejection, burying the egg in the nest lining, or abandoning the nest.


The interactions between avian brood parasites, such as cuckoos or cowbirds, and their hosts have emerged as model systems to study coevolutionary processes under natural conditions. Instead of building a nest and tending their offspring, brood parasites lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and abandon the care of their young to the host. Adult parasites tend to remove or damage host eggs when depositing their own and parasite chicks generally eliminate the rest of the host’s brood after hatching. Consequently, hosts evolve defenses against brood parasites, which select counteradaptations in parasites, further counteradaptations in hosts, and so on. While evidence of reciprocal adaptations and counteradaptations in hosts...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Brooke, M. de. L., & Davies, N. B. (1988). Egg mimicry by cuckoos Cuculus canorus in relation to discrimination by hosts. Nature, 335, 630–632. https://doi.org/10.1038/335630a0.
  2. Feeney, W. E., Welbergen, J. A., & Langmore, N. E. (2014). Advances in the study of coevolution between avian brood parasites and their hosts. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 45(1), 227–246. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-120213-091603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Hoover, J. P., & Robinson, S. K. (2007). Retaliatory mafia behavior by a parasitic cowbird favors host acceptance of parasitic eggs. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 104, 4479–4483. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0609710104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Krüger, O. (2011). Brood parasitism selects for no defence in a cuckoo host. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 278, 2777–2783. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2010.2629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Lahti, D. C. (2006). Persistence of egg recognition in the absence of cuckoo brood parasitism: Pattern and mechanism. Evolution, 60, 157–168.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Rothstein, S. I. (1975). An experimental and Teleonomic investigation of avian brood parasitism. The Condor, 77(3), 250–271. https://doi.org/10.2307/1366221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Stevens, M., Troscianko, J., & Spottiswoode, C. N. (2013). Repeated targeting of the same hosts by a brood parasite compromises host egg rejection. Nature Communications, 4, 2475. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms3475.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. Stoddard, M. C., Kilner, R. M., & Town, C. (2014). Pattern recognition algorithm reveals how birds evolve individual egg pattern signatures. Nature Communications, 5, 4117. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms5117.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Thorogood, R., & Davies, N. B. (2016). Combining personal with social information facilitates host defences and explains why cuckoos should be secretive. Scientific Reports, 6, 19872. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep19872.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Russell Jackson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of IdahoMoscowUSA