Yellow-billed Magpies (Pica nuttalli) ejected 100% of nonmimetic eggs placed in their nests despite such behavior having no detectable present day benefits. They are not currently parasitized, nor is there any evidence of a recently extinct brood parasite. Furthermore, there was no molecular evidence of conspecific parasitism, and Yellow-billed Magpies accepted eight of nine conspecific eggs transferred between nests, so recognition would rarely be of benefit if conspecific parasitism occurred. Thus, we suggest that egg recognition in Yellow-billed Magpies is a plesiomorphic trait, a primitive character inherited from a remote ancestor, its nearest relative, the Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica). The latter suffers from parasitism by Great Spotted Cuckoos (Clamator glandarius) in Eurasia and displays rejection behavior throughout Europe in populations that are allopatric and sympatric with this cuckoo. As would be expected if Yellow-billed Magpies inherited rejection behavior from the Black-billed Magpie, or the common ancestor of both species, we found that North American Black-billed Magpies also have well developed egg recognition despite being unaffected by interspecific parasitism. The long-term retention of host defenses as is indicated by magpies has major implications for the coevolutionary interactions between brood parasites and their hosts.
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Vol. 102 • No. 2