To avoid competition for parental care, brood-parasitic Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) nestlings evict all of the host's eggs and nestlings within a few days after hatching. Little is known about the physiological effects of eviction behavior on the cuckoo nestling's oxidative balance or about age-related variation in plasma oxidative status and testosterone level of developing birds. We examined whether the cuckoo nestling's plasma oxidative status was related to prior effort in eviction and quantified variation in the level of reactive oxygen metabolites, of nonenzymatic antioxidant capacity, and of testosterone concentration in plasma at various phases of the cuckoo's development. Levels of both reactive oxygen metabolites and antioxidant capacity were greater in older than in younger nestlings, suggesting that younger nestlings effectively counterbalance their increased production of free radicals, whereas, near fledging, levels of reactive oxygen metabolites increase despite improved antioxidant capacity. Possibly, overall energy expenditure increases with age and elevates the production of reactive oxygen species to a rate higher than what the antioxidant system could eliminate. Plasma testosterone level was the highest at nestlings' intermediate phase of growth. High levels of testosterone may be required during the period of fastest growth, and when the growth rate levels off near fledging, testosterone levels may also decline. Cuckoo chicks that evicted more host eggs from steeper nests had higher plasma levels of reactive oxygen metabolites shortly after the eviction period, suggesting that eviction is costly in terms of an increased level of oxidative stress.
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Vol. 114 • No. 4