What happens when a cuckoo chick is spotted?

20 September 2009



What happens when a cuckoo chick is recognised by its (unwilling) surrogate parents?


We posed this question to Rebecca Kilner from the University of Cambridge...

There are some host species that are confined to Australia, as far as we know at the moment, who can recognise the cuckoo chick in the nest. And what happens here is that, recognition typically takes place four days after hatching, and the birds simply stop feeding the chick in the nest, even though it's alive and well and healthy and begging for food.

Something happens that makes them realise it's not their own, and they give up on the chick and they take the nest apart, even though the chick is still sitting in there and still alive, and they build a fresh nest next door and, eventually, the cuckoo chick starves to death and the meat ants move in and dismember the corpse and carry it back to their own nest...


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