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Keywords:

  • brood parasitism;
  • Clamator glandarius ;
  • egg-laying behaviour;
  • Pica pica

Abstract

Species that suffer from brood parasitism face a considerable reduction in their fitness which selects for the evolution of host defences. To prevent parasitism, hosts can mob or attack brood parasites when they approach the host nest and block the access to the nest by sitting on the clutch. In turn, as a counter-adaptation, brood parasites evolved secretive behaviours near their host nests. Here, we have studied great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) egg-laying behaviour and defence by their magpie (Pica pica) hosts inside the nest using continuous video recordings. We have found several surprising results that contradict some general assumptions. The most important is that most (71%) of the parasitic events by cuckoo females are completed while the magpie females are incubating. By staying in the nest, magpies force cuckoo females to lay their egg facing the high risk of being attacked by the incubating magpie (attack occurred in all but one of the events, n = 15). During these attacks, magpies pecked the cuckoo violently, but could never effectively avoid parasitism. These novel observations expand the sequence of adaptations and counter-adaptations in the arms race between brood parasites and their hosts during the pre-laying and laying periods.