Cuckoos, Cowbirds and other Cheats

Overview

Cuckoos and cowbirds are amongst the select bird groups renowned as professional parasites, who always lay their eggs in the nests of other species. Occasional parasitic laying is also widespread in many other birds, who gladly parasitise the nests of their own kind when the opportunity arises.

In this fascinating new book, Nick Davies describes the natural histories of all the brood parasites and examines the exciting questions they raise about the evolution of cheating and the...

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Overview

Cuckoos and cowbirds are amongst the select bird groups renowned as professional parasites, who always lay their eggs in the nests of other species. Occasional parasitic laying is also widespread in many other birds, who gladly parasitise the nests of their own kind when the opportunity arises.

In this fascinating new book, Nick Davies describes the natural histories of all the brood parasites and examines the exciting questions they raise about the evolution of cheating and the arms race between parasites and their hosts. Brood parasites fill their armoury with adaptations including exquisite egg mimicry, rapid laying, ejection of host eggs, murder of host young, chick mimicry and manipulative begging behaviour: ploys shown by recent research to have evolved in response to host defence behaviour or through competition among the parasites themselves. While many host species appear defenceless, accepting parasite eggs quite unlike their own, others are more discriminating against odd-looking eggs and some have evolved the ability to discriminate against odd-looking chicks as well. How does this arms race proceed? Will denfenceless hosts improve their armour in time, or are there sometimes constraints on hosts which allow the parasites to gain the upperhand? And why are so few species obliged only to lay eggs in host nests? Have host defences limited the success of brood parasitsm, or is it in fact much commoner than we suspect, but occurring mainly when birds

parasitise the nests of their own kind?

All of these puzzles are examined in descriptions of the natural history of each of the groups of parasites in turn. Here is a book with wide appeal, both to amateur naturalists fascinated by this most singular and macabre of behaviours and to ornithologists and ecologists interested in the evolution of ecology and behaviour. The story takes us from the strange tales of folklore to the classic field work earlier this century by pioneer ornithologists such as Edgar Chance, Stuart Baker, Herbert Friedmann and others, through to the recent experimental field work and molecular techniques of today's leading scientists. We visit brood parasites in Europe, Asia, Japan, Africa, Australasia, and North and South America, to look at some of the world's most interesting birds and some of biology's most interesting questions, many of which still beg answers from

ornithologists in the future.

Brilliant illustrations by David Quinn depict many behaviours for the first time and convey the thrill of watching these astonishing birds in the wild.

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Editorial Reviews

Angela Turner
...an authoritive book that is still very accessible to the amateur ornithologist. Davies's writing style is highly readable: he mixeds a wealth of facts and ideas with descriptions, historical accounts and anecdotes to piece together a natural-history puzzle. The book is attractive and well produced, with colour photographs and delightful illustrations by David Quinn. This is an excellent, must-have addition to the Poyser list. —British Birds
Animal Behavior
The book is a magnificent review of the suite of adaptations allowing brood parasites to exploit their hosts and allowing hosts to escape parasititsm.
BTO News
Gripping stuff! An enthralling bit of natural history, some excellent scientific work, and very well written. This book was the judges' independent, unanimous first choice [British Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology's Best Bird Book of the Year 2000].
C.J. Pollard in Choice
...fine illustrations...Recommended for all libraries...General readers; undergraduate and graduate students; professionals.
Gordon Hamlett
If you are normally put off by heavy scientific monographs, then give this one a try. Illustated by David Quinn and with eight pages of colour plates, this is a fascinating book which reads like a whodunnit from beginning to end... —Bird Watching
IBIS
Cuckoos, Cowbirds and Other Cheats is a brilliantly accessible book about natural selection and evolution using cuckoos and other brood parasites as examples to illustrate these processes. The book is both a natural history of brood parasites as well as a very detailed and rigorous scientific textbook... This book is one of the best behavioural ecology texts ever written and demonstrates again why Nick Davies is one of the world's foremost naturalists... The Poyser series is arguably one of the finest collections of ornithological writing that has ever been produced and Nick Davies' book may well be the best of the series.
Jon Carter
...the minute one starts to delve into the lives of these extraordinary birds, known as the brood parasites, the story unfolds like a piece of classic fiction. ...Anyone with an interest in the wonders of the natural world will find this book, which is beautifully illustrated by David Quinn, an absolute delight. No surprise that it won British Birds and the BTO's coveted title of Bird Book of the Year 2000.
Martin Collinson
This book won the British Birds' Bird Book of the Year' competition by a mile. At the award ceremony, Jeremy Greenwood asserted that he had sat down and read the book from start to finish without being able to put it down... You have to get this book.
Nature
This charming and well-written volume gives a remarkably complete compendium of information on avian brood parasitism and comes up with answers to the major questions in parasitology and evolutionary biology that its study provokes. The book is filled with novel ideas and logical, incisive interpretations of empirical results. Every twist and turn of an argument is laid out clearly and precisely... this is a remarkable book, which describes brood parasitism and its evolution clearly and comprehensively, and sets the stage for the next round of exciting discoveries.
Steve Gantlett
This book is an absorbing study of its subject. ...a very readable book that is hard to put down. This truly fascinating volume is well up to the high standards of the famous T. & A.D. Poyser series. —Birding World
Tim Harris
Nick Davies clearly has an understanding and love of the subject that shines through in his writing, while David Quinn's line drawings are superb. ...This book is not a dull scientific treatise. It is always accessible, and at times it makes for gripping reading. —Birdwatch
Visitor
This book, beautifully illustrated by David Quinn, is an absolute delight, which deservedly won the British Trust for Ornithology's coveted title of Bird Book of the Year 2000.
Winging It
A fascinating story very well told.
Booknews
Davies (behavioral ecology, U. of Cambridge) describes birds that lay their eggs in some other bird's nest, including those species that always do it, and those that occasionally foster their young to others in the same species. He takes an evolutionary perspective, showing how the parasites have developed measures such as egg and chick mimicry, rapid laying, ejecting host eggs, and manipulative begging behavior. He includes many photographs and drawings. Distributed in the US by Academic Press. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Robert C. Fleischer
The volume is written with both the professional scientist and interested amateur in mind, and would make an enjoyable read for both. Generally, this is a remarkable book, which describes brood parasitism and its evolution clearly and comprehensively, and sets the stage for the next round of exciting discoveries.
Nature
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780856611353
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2000
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 7.65 (w) x 10.21 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ..... ix
1: A monstrous outrage on maternal affection ..... 1
2: One hundred brood parasites and some puzzles ..... 11
3: The Common Cuckoo and its hosts ..... 26
4: Co-evolution of host defences and Common Cuckoo trickery ..... 43
5: How to spot a cuckoo egg ..... 59
6: Driving parents cuckoo ..... 70
7: Bronze-cuckoos in Africa and Australia ..... 82
8: The non-evicting cuckoos: manipulative nestlings and Mafia tactics ..... 98
9: Cuckoos versus hosts: who wins? ..... 117
10: The Brown-headed Cowbird and its conquest of North America ..... 141
11: Old and new hosts of the Brown-headed Cowbird and conservation problems ..... 159
12: 'Shot-gun' Shiny and specialist Screaming Cowbirds, with cowbirds and cuckoos compared ..... 177
13: The parasitic finches of Africa: mimicry of host chicks and host songs ..... 194
14: Cheating on your own kind ..... 211
15: Origins ..... 241
Notes on the chapters ..... 257
Appendix 1: The one hundred species of brood parasitic birds ..... 263
Appendix 2: Scientific names of birds and other animals mentioned in the text ..... 271
References ..... 276
Index ..... 299
Other books in the series ..... 311
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