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Common Cuckoos Cuculus canorus change their nest-searching strategy according to the number of available host nests



In recent decades, numerous studies have examined factors affecting risk of host nest parasitism in well-known avian host–parasite systems; however, little attention has been paid to the role of host nest availability. In accordance with other studies, we found that nest visibility, reed density and timing of breeding predicted brood parasitism of Great Reed Warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus by the Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus. More interestingly, hosts had a greater chance of escaping brood parasitism if nesting was synchronized. Cuckoo nest searching was governed primarily by nest visibility at high host-nest density. However, even well-concealed nests were likely to be parasitized during periods when just a few hosts were laying eggs, suggesting that Cuckoos adjust their nest-searching strategy in relation to the availability of host nests. Our results demonstrate that host vulnerability to brood parasitism varies temporally and that Cuckoo females are able to optimize their nest-searching strategy. Moreover, our study indicated that Cuckoos always manage to find at least some nests to parasitize. Thus, in this case, the co-evolutionary arms race should take place mainly in the form of parasitic egg rejection rather than via frontline pre-parasitism defence.