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Habitat and space use of European cuckoo females during the egg laying period

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In brood parasites, knowledge of spacing behaviour, habitat use and territoriality may reveal cues about how parasites find and use their hosts. To study the use of space and habitat of European cuckoos, Cuculus canorus, we radio-tagged 16 females during four consecutive reproductive seasons. We hypothesized that during the laying period cuckoo females should (1) use habitats selectively, and (2) attempt to monopolize potential egg laying areas to reduce competition for host nests. Our data are consistent with the first hypothesis: the use of pond edges compared to forest and transitional habitats was significantly greater than expected from the habitat availability in the total area and within individual female home ranges. All 26 directly observed egg layings and 27 nest visits without laying occurred at pond edges in nests of Acrocephalus spp. Females spent significantly more time at pond edges on egglaying days than on non-laying days. The second hypothesis was not supported: female home ranges overlapped similarly in all three major habitat categories of the potential egg laying areas, and only little aggression was observed between females. We discuss whether female cuckoos may lack territorial behaviour because they are not able to defend egg laying areas economically or because defence is not necessary due to sufficient availability of suitable host nests.

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