Welcome to African Cuckoos

Adaptation, mimicry and co-evolution in Africa’s avian cheats: cuckoo finches, honeyguides, indigobirds & cuckoos.

Brood parasites are the cheats of the bird world. They exploit the parental care of other species (their hosts) to raise their young. Hosts suffer if they are successfully tricked by a brood parasite, because brood-parasitic chicks monopolise access to food provided by host parents, and some species actively kill the host’s eggs and chicks.

This conflict between brood parasites and their hosts has led to some of the most beautiful examples of adaptation seen in nature. They also provide ideal study systems for field research on coevolution – the process by which two or more species affect each other’s evolution. As the brood parasite adapts to better exploit the host, the host often evolves counter-adaptations to better defend itself against the parasite.

We are a group of evolutionary biologists studying brood parasites (and other interesting birds) in the field in Choma, Zambia, since 2006, based jointly in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge in the UK, and the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

The project is led by Prof. Claire Spottiswoode, BBSRC David Phillips Research Fellow and Hans Gadow Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, and Pola Pasvolsky Chair in Conservation Biology at the University of Cape Town, and is co-led by Dr Gabriel Jamie, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge and a research associate at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town.

In Zambia, we also work with colleagues at the Livingstone Museum, the Department of Zoology and Aquatic Sciences at Copperbelt University, and (forthcoming in 2021) Choma Museum, in collaborative research, public outreach, and capacity-building.

On this website you can find out more about our work, the brood parasites and other interesting birds we study, see photos of our fieldwork, and read a bit about who we are, what we’ve written, and who supports our work.

home page cuckoo mosaic

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News

Outreach for British Science Week at local Cambridgeshire school

During this year’s British Science Week, we’ve been engaging with local school children in Cambridgeshire. Mairenn Attwood led interactive talks at the Thomas Clarkson Academy in Wisbech,  a school partnered with ‘Teach First’ (a charity aimed at reducing educational inequality).

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New scientific paper on the “Limits to host colonization and speciation” published

Our paper “Limits to host colonization and speciation in a radiation of parasitic finches” has just been published in the journal Behavioral Ecology. In this study, led by Dr Gabriel Jamie, we explored the factors which limited the colonisation of new hosts by brood-parasitic Vidua finches. Speciation in these birds is closely connected with the colonisation of new hosts. Therefore, if we can understand what limits this process, we can understand what has limited the diversification of this radiation.

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Parasitic finches featured in new documentary “Attenborough’s Life in Colour” on BBC One

The amazing mimicry shown by nestling Pin-tailed Whydahs of their Common Waxbill hosts is showcased in David Attenborough’s Life in Colour the latest natural history documentary on BBC One. Filming of this sequence by Nick Green and Max Hug Williams of Humble Bee Films took place at our field site in Choma, Zambia, with Dr Gabriel Jamie acting as scientific consultant and contributing sound recordings.

You can watch the sequence in Episode 2: “Hiding in Colour” on BBC iPlayer.

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Supported By:

The-Leverhulme-Trust
BBSRC
LOreal-UNESCO-For-Women-in-Science
Percy-FitzPatrick-Institute
The-Royal-Society
Marie-Curie-Actions
BBSRC
The-Leverhulme-Trust
The-Royal-Society
Percy-FitzPatrick-Institute
LOreal-UNESCO-For-Women-in-Science
Marie-Curie-Actions