Brood Parasites Are Devious Birds

Brood parasitism is a strange and fascinating breeding strategy seen in several hundred bird species.

November 5, 2020

Listen to the Episode

Brood Parasites Are Devious Birds


Brood parasitism is a strange and fascinating behavior that we see (in one form or another) in several hundred bird species.

This is where a female lays an egg in the nest of another bird. The parasite female flies away and never sees her offspring. The host bird or birds are fooled into raising the foreign chick as their own.

Learn about which types of birds use this breeding strategy, including cuckoos and cowbirds.

We’ll discuss the various tactics used by both the parasites and their hosts in this evolutionary arms race. And we’ll get into some ins and outs of the evolutionary process in these birds.

Links to Some Things Mentioned in this Episode

Research Citations

Errors and Clarifications

  • At 07:38, I say that the only obligate brood parasite bird species in North America is the Brown-headed Cowbird. But the Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus) lives in Mexico year round and breeds in some southern American states (AZ, CA, NM, TX, and LA).

Photos of some birds mentioned

Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus; family Cuculidae).
A female Brown-headed Cowbird (Molotrhus ater; family Icteridae). Photo by Steve Byland.
Male Pin-tailed Whydah (Vidua macroura; family Viduidae) in Uganda. Photo by Ivan Phillipsen.
Large Hawk-Cuckoo (Hierococcyx sparverioides; family Cuculidae) male in China. Male hawk-cuckoos mimic the plumage of accipiter hawks to frighten their hosts off of their nests. Photo by Prin79.
Common Cuckoo egg (the larger one) in a Marsh Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris) nest. Photo by fotoparus.
A Shining Bronze-Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx lucidus; family Cuculidae) in Australia. Photo by Laurie Boyle.

This work by Ivan Phillipsen is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0


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