Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


How birds spot the cuckoo in the nest

It's not always easy spotting the cuckoo in the nest. But if you don't, you pay a high price raising someone else's chick. How hosts distinguish impostor eggs from their own has long puzzled scientists.

The problem remained largely unsolved while looking at it through our own eyes. It was only when people started thinking from the birds' perspective that they began to understand how hosts recognise a cuckoo egg in the nest.

Marcel Honza from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic explains that birds see UV wavelengths that are well outside our own visual range. Knowing that many bird eggs reflect UV wavelengths, Honza wondered whether altering the reflected UV spectrum of an egg would affect a bird's ability to recognise it as foreign and reject it.

Would a blackcap recognise and evict an impostor egg if the reflected UV spectrum were different from the wavelengths reflected by the bird's own clutch? Teaming up with Lenka Polaèiková, Honza headed into a near-by forest to test blackcap responses to impostor eggs and publish their findings on July 18th in The Journal of Experimental Biology at

... more about:
»Honza »NEST »appearance »blackcap »cuckoo »reflectivity

But instead of testing the birds' reactions to real cuckoo eggs, the team found abandoned blackcap eggs, introducing them as impostors to successful blackcap clutches. Having identified nests with well-established clutches, the team coated some impostor eggs in UV blocker, to alter their UV appearance, and others in Vaseline, which didn't alter the egg's UV reflectivity, before planting the impostors in their new nest. Then the team kept their fingers crossed, hoping that the nests weren't washed out by a heavy downpour or raided by a hungry predator, as they waited 5 days to see if the parents rejected the interlopers.

Of the 16 eggs coated in Vaseline, 11 of the impostors were accepted by the nesting parents, while five were rejected; most of the interloper blackcap eggs were visually indistinguishable from the nesting parents' own eggs and were accepted as belonging to the brood. However, it was a different matter for the birds sitting on UV-block-coated impostors. Seventeen brooding parents evicted the strange looking egg, pecking at the shell until they had made a large enough hole to stick their beak in and carry it away. Only 11 blackcaps accepted the interloper with its altered appearance.

The UV appearance of the eggs was very important in enabling the blackcaps to recognise the new eggs as impostors. The blackcaps rejected far more eggs when Polaèiková and Honza covered them in UV block. By altering the eggs' UV reflectivity the team had made them stand out from the crowd.

Honza admits that he was surprised that the UV reflectivity had such a significant effect on the blackcap's ability to reject an impostor. Having found that an interloper's UV appearance is key to its acceptance in a clutch, Honza is keen to see whether cuckoos try to outsmart their victims by choosing clutches that closely match their own eggs' UV reflectivity.

Kathryn Phillips | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Honza NEST appearance blackcap cuckoo reflectivity

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'
16.03.2018 | Emory Health Sciences

nachricht Scientists map the portal to the cell's nucleus
16.03.2018 | Rockefeller University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>