When Arrow-Marked Babblers Adopt a Cuckoo Chick


Wilderness Blogger


Linkwasha guide Peter Gava elaborates on the unfolding saga of the resident arrow-marked babbler’s ‘adoption’ of a cuckoo chick…


During last year’s breeding season we observed Levaillant’s cuckoos trying to offload their young on our resident mafia of arrow-marked babblers, but without success.


Interestingly, during this current breeding season the cuckoos tried their same ploy, with their mischievous plan succeeding this time when a female cuckoo was able to foist her eggs onto their new foster parents.


We picked up on a nesting site of the babblers, with several very distinct blue babbler eggs on the ground. They had been pushed out of the nest by the invading cuckoo who laid her eggs in place of the babblers’.


More recently we have observed the amazing interaction of the cuckoo chick’s etepimeletic behaviour, mimicking the begging call of babbler chicks, to ensure it is fed by the host species.


Babbler chicks are much smaller than those of cuckoos, and can be out-competed by the brood parasite’s persistent soliciting of food. Thus, a flock of co-operative breeding arrow-marked babblers is the perfect host species as they all work together to feed the young.


One noticeable result of the babbler’s allelomimetic behaviour are two out-of-tune cuckoos that constantly pester us in the canteen with their intense vocals!


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