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1 December 2016 Growth Performance of Nestling Cuckoos Cuculus canorus in Cavity Nesting Hosts
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Generalist brood parasites, like Common Cuckoos Cuculus canorus, target many host species. Why other sympatric hosts are not used, or actively avoided, remains one of the main gaps in our understanding of parasite-host coevolution. Cavity nesting passerines always represented a text-book example of unsuitable hosts but recent evidence casts multiple doubts on this traditional view. In general, any species can become an unsuitable host for a parasite at laying, incubation, or nestling stages with the last one being much less studied than the others. Therefore we examined Cuckoo chick performance in five cavity nesting host species, including one regular Cuckoo host — the Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus and four non-hosts: the Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata, Great Tit Parus major, and Coal Tit Periparus ater. Natural nests of non-hosts, as opposed to artificial nest boxes with small entrance holes, are often placed in cavities that show both entrance and inner cavity sizes large enough for female Cuckoos to lay and Cuckoo chicks to fledge. We did not find any evidence for chick discrimination in non-hosts, i.e., no chicks were rejected, attacked, or neglected. Cuckoo chicks grew similarly in nests of all four species of non-hosts, similarly to chicks in host Redstart nests, and generally better than in nests of the most numerous Cuckoo host, the Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus. Although Cuckoo chick fledging mass was highly host speciesspecific (i.e., showed high statistical repeatability across various host species), we did not find any evidence for the hypothesis that host body size (mass) positively affects parasite chick growth (fledging mass or age). These findings provide impetus to further study apparently unsuitable hosts and perhaps even reconsider traditional classifications of host suitability in the context of brood parasite-host coevolution.

Tomáš Grim and Peter Samaš "Growth Performance of Nestling Cuckoos Cuculus canorus in Cavity Nesting Hosts," Acta Ornithologica 51(2), (1 December 2016).
Received: 1 August 2016; Accepted: 1 November 2016; Published: 1 December 2016

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