In a new paper we show experimentally that adult female cuckoo finches (at left in photo) in Zambia have evolved to resemble harmless and abundant bishop-birds (right), which should help them to slip past being attacked by host parents while they try to lay their egg. However, hosts are not fooled by this attempted deception, and defend themselves against parasitic cuckoo finches and harmless bishop-birds alike. To our knowledge this is the first time that such “wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing” plumage mimicry has been experimentally shown to exist in any adult bird. The paper is by Will Feeney, Jolyon Troscianko, Naomi Langmore and Claire Spottiswoode, and is available open access in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.
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).