Females that experience threat are better teachers

Sonia Kleindorfer, Christine Evans, Diane Colombelli-Négrel


Superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) females use an incubation call to teach their embryos a vocal password to solicit parental feeding care after hatching. We previously showed that high call rate by the female was correlated with high call similarity in fairy-wren chicks, but not in cuckoo chicks, and that parent birds more often fed chicks with high call similarity. Hosts should be selected to increase their defence behaviour when the risk of brood parasitism is highest, such as when cuckoos are present in the area. Therefore, we experimentally test whether hosts increase call rate to embryos in the presence of a singing Horsfield's bronze-cuckoo (Chalcites basalis). Female fairy-wrens increased incubation call rate when we experimentally broadcast cuckoo song near the nest. Embryos had higher call similarity when females had higher incubation call rate. We interpret the findings of increased call rate as increased teaching effort in response to a signal of threat.

  • Received January 16, 2014.
  • Accepted April 12, 2014.
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