Soler et al. (2014) Great Spotted Cuckoo Fledglings Often Receive Feedings from Other Magpie Adults than Their Foster Parents: Which Magpies Accept to Feed Foreign Cuckoo Fledglings?
Natural selection penalizes individuals that provide costly parental care to non-relatives. However, feedings to brood parasitic fledglings by individuals other than their foster parents, although anecdotic, have been commonly observed, also in the great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) – magpie (Pica pica) system, but this behaviour has never been studied in depth. In a first experiment, we here show that great spotted cuckoo fledglings that were translocated to a distant territory managed to survive. This implies that obtaining food from foreign magpies is a frequent and efficient strategy used by great
spotted cuckoo fledglings. A second experiment, in which we presented a stuffed-cuckoo fledgling in magpie territories, showed that adult magpies caring for magpie fledglings responded aggressively in most of the trials and never tried to feed the stuffed cuckoo, whereas magpies that were caring for cuckoo fledglings reacted rarely with aggressive behaviour and were sometimes disposed to feed the stuffed cuckoo. In a third experiment we observed feedings to post-fledgling cuckoos by marked adult magpies belonging to four different possibilities with respect to breeding status (i.e. composition of the brood: only cuckoos, only magpies, mixed, or failed breeding attempt). All non-parental feeding events to cuckoos were provided by magpies that were caring only for cuckoo fledglings. These results strongly support the conclusion that cuckoo fledglings that abandon their foster parents get fed by other adult magpies that are currently caring for other cuckoo fledglings. These findings are crucial to understand the co-evolutionary arms race between brood parasites and their hosts because they show that the presence of the host’s own nestlings for comparison is likely a key clue to favour the evolution of fledgling discrimination and provide new insights on several relevant points such as learning mechanisms and multi parasitism.