Oz cuckoo chicks copy hosts voices to be fed by foster parents

July 23rd, 2008 - 1:34 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, July 23 (ANI): New research has shown that Australian cuckoos chicks convince their foster parents to feed them by copying the voices of the hosts offspring.

Researchers from the Australian National University and the University of Cambridge have found that the chicks of the Horsfield’’s bronze-cuckoo (Chalcites basalis) copy the short cheep cheep begging call when they hatch in a fairy-wren nest.

And chicks that hatch in the nests of thornbills, say the researchers, imitate the thornbill’’s long, rasping whine.

Lead researcher Naomi Langmore has revealed that she and her colleagues wanted to know how the chicks “decide” which cry to make.

“The most logical assumption was that there would be two races of cuckoo, each specializing on a different host and making a begging call that matches its host. This would be similar to the European cuckoo, which has several different races each of which lays an egg that matches that of its favoured host,” Discovery News quoted her as saying.

To test their assumption, she and her colleagues took cuckoo eggs laid in fairy-wren nests, and switched them into thornbill nests.

The researchers fitted tiny microphones on nearby foliage to follow subsequent happenings.

“We were amazed to find that the chicks could modify their calls,” Langmore said.

She revealed that the chicks first begged like a fairy-wren chick, but within several days had switched to match the length of the thornbill’’s call.

“Remarkably, they make the same begging call as the chicks of whichever host rears them, even though they never actually hear the host chicks,” she said.

Longmore said that the findings indicated that the cuckoos could have a range of call options genetically pre-programmed.

She said that chicks reared by a host other than a fairy-wren might find that they were not getting fed properly because they were not making the right call, something that might prompt them to “switch to an alternative begging call”.

“Cuckoos survive by fooling other birds into rearing their chicks, so they are grand masters of deception,” she added. (ANI)

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