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Post‐fledging interactions between the Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus and its cavity‐nesting Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus host

Kysučan, Michal, Samaš, Peter, Grim, Tomáš
TheIbis 2020 v.162 no.1 pp. 90-103
Cuculus canorus, fledglings, host-parasite relationships, hosts, nestlings, parasites, predation, rearing, starvation, survival rate
Brood parasite–host interactions during the incubation and nestling stages have been well studied, but the post‐fledging period remains virtually unknown. Using radiotracking, we provide the first detailed data on post‐fledging interactions between the Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus and its only regular cavity‐nesting host, the Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus. Cuckoos raised alone (‘solitary’) fledged at higher mass, with higher wing and tarsus length and started to fly at a younger age than Cuckoos raised alongside young Redstarts (‘mixed’). However, a further 23 fledging and post‐fledging parameters measured at five pre‐determined times (fledging, first‐flight, predation, starvation, independence) did not differ between solitary and mixed Cuckoos. In addition, none of the parameters measured during the post‐fledging period (growth, dispersal distances, number of flights) differed between solitary and mixed Cuckoos. Redstart fledglings from non‐parasitized broods (‘solitary’) showed generally similar fledging and post‐fledging parameters to fledglings reared alongside a Cuckoo (‘mixed’). Surprisingly, there were no significant differences in post‐fledging predation rate, starvation or overall survival rates between mixed and solitary Cuckoos or mixed and solitary Redstarts. Thus, during the post‐fledging period, mixed Cuckoo fledglings successfully compensated for the poorer performance experienced during the nestling stage whereas mixed and solitary Redstarts did not differ in any measured parameters. This suggests that the regular occurrence of mixed broods in this host–parasite system – which is unique among the many Cuckoo hosts – is evolutionarily stable for both hosts and parasites.