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Evolution of brood parasitism in birds: constraints related to prey type

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Few birds are obligate brood parasites and one explanation is that the young will not thrive with the food and parental care provided by another species. We addressed this problem by cross-fostering between two passerine birds with similar breeding ecology, viz., the pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), and the great tit (Parus major). A previous study showed that pied flycatchers are readily raised by great tit foster parents, but that cross-fostering of great tits to pied flycatcher nests fails. In the present study, great tit nestlings were temporarily placed in pied flycatcher nests and video filmed when three and 10 days old. The parents did not seem to discriminate between the nestlings of the two species but the great tits had more problems handling the prey. Apparently, the offspring of the two species have adapted to different diets, pied flycatchers providing more adult and winged insects to their young than do great tits. We suggest that species with nestlings feeding on prey items that are difficult to swallow are more likely candidates to become interspecific brood parasites than species feeding on soft prey easily ingested.

Affiliations: 1: Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of Biology, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1066, Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway; 2: Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of Biology, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1066, Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway;, Email:


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