The Screaming Cowbird (Molothrus rufoaxillaris) is the most specialized brood-parasitic cowbird, relying almost entirely on the Bay-winged Cowbird (Agelaioides badius) as host. Recently, Screaming Cowbirds have expanded their range to areas where Bay-winged Cowbirds are absent, and they are exploiting the Chopi Blackbird (Gnorimopsar chopi). Interactions between Screaming Cowbirds and Chopi Blackbirds are largely unexplored, as is the reproductive success of the parasite in this host. Screaming Cowbirds, Chopi Blackbirds, and Bay-winged Cowbirds coexist in northeastern Argentina, providing an ideal system to explore interactions between a specialist brood parasite and an alternative host and to compare the reproductive success of the parasite in its main host and in an alternative host. Screaming Cowbirds parasitized both hosts throughout their breeding seasons (Chopi Blackbirds, mid-October to mid-January; Bay-winged Cowbirds, mid-November to mid-March). Frequency of parasitism was lower in Chopi Blackbirds than in Bay-winged Cowbirds (46% vs. 74%). Nest survival was higher in Chopi Blackbirds than in Bay-winged Cowbirds (37% vs. 15%). In successful nests, survival of Screaming Cowbird eggs and chicks was high and relatively similar in both hosts (Chopi Blackbirds: eggs, 99%; chicks, 90%; Bay-winged Cowbirds: eggs, 93%; chicks, 93%), but hatchability was lower in Chopi Blackbirds than in Bay-winged Cowbirds (52% vs. 92%). Considering (1) nest survival and (2) egg survival, hatchability, and chick survival in successful nests, the reproductive success of Screaming Cowbirds (i.e. proportion of eggs that resulted in fledglings) was 0.17 in Chopi Blackbirds and 0.12 in Bay-winged Cowbirds. Our results indicate that the Chopi Blackbird is a frequent host of the Screaming Cowbird, and parasitism of this alternative host may help explain the range expansion of this parasite in areas of Brazil where the Bay-winged Cowbird is absent.
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Vol. 132 • No. 1