Dr Gabriel Jamie presents webinar on Africa’s brood-parasitic birds for BirdLife South Africa

May 12, 2021

Dr Gabriel Jamie gave a webinar titled: “Africa’s Avian Cheats: Exploring the deceitful ways of cuckoos, honeyguides and parasitic finches”. The talk was part of BirdLife South Africa’s Conservation Conversation series and explores the amazing world of brood-parasitic birds in Africa. You can watch a recording of the talk here:  https://youtu.be/7fesIIK2_Wk

Brood parasites are species that forego their parental duties. Instead lay their eggs in the nests of other birds and force them to rear their young. Africa is the continent with the greatest diversity of brood-parasitic birds on Earth. This includes many species of cuckoo, honeyguide and parasitic finch. Whilst all these birds face the common challenge of sneaking their eggs into the nests of another bird unnoticed and getting that bird to feed a foreign nestling, the solutions they have reached are extremely varied. These brood-parasites are entirely dependent on a small number of host species for their survival and their conservation is therefore intimately connected to the fate of their hosts. Conversely, host populations can be severely impacted by parasitism especially when host species are already endangered for other reasons. In this talk, Gabriel showcased some of the diverse strategies developed by the brood parasites of Africa to trick and exploit their hosts. He also highlighted the conservation implications of such interactions and show how a detailed knowledge of these birds’ breeding biologies is essential to conserving them.

African cuckoo


New paper on imperfect egg mimicry

Our paper “Combined measures of mimetic fidelity explain imperfect mimicry in a brood parasite-host system” has just been published in the journal Biology Letters. This study was led by Tanmay Dixit, and carried out together with Gary Choi, Salem al-Mosleh, Jess Lund, Jolyon Troscianko, Collins Moya, L Mahadevan, and Claire Spottiswoode, as part of a collaboration between our group and Prof. Mahadevan and his lab at Harvard University. Together we combined mathematical tools and field experiments in Zambia to quantify a key difference – “squiggle” markings – between the eggs of hosts (tawny-flanked prinias) and parasites (cuckoo finches). We showed that suboptimal behaviour on the part of prinias allows cuckoo finches to get by with an imperfect copy of prinia eggs.

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New paper on host aggression and hawk mimicry

Our paper “Aggressive hosts are undeterred by a cuckoo’s hawk mimicry, but probably make good foster parents” has just been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In the paper, we investigate the costs and benefits to the African cuckoo of specializing on a highly aggressive host species, the fork-tailed drongo.

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African Cuckoos Team at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress

The African Cuckoos Team had a fantastic time at the Pan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC15), this year held in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe. Dr Chima Nwaogu gave a plenary talk on “Differing Priorities in the Timing of Annual Life History Events”, while Professor Claire Spottiswoode and Silky Hamama presented during a roundtable session on communities in conservation and research. Silky also presented a poster, with Claire, Jess Lund, Mairenn Attwood and Cameron Blair each giving research talks as well. 

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