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. This research was led by Mairenn Attwood, and carried out together with Jess Lund, Chima Nwaogu, Collins Moya and Claire Spottiswoode. We investigated the costs and benefits to the African cuckoo of specializing on a highly aggressive host species, the fork-tailed drongo.
We used field experiments to test the effectiveness of hawk mimicry by African cuckoos when attacking host nests, alongside survival analysis of the same host nests.We showed for the first time that aggression can exacerbate the trade-off a parasite faces in choosing which host species to parasitise. Drongo aggression undermined the effectiveness of hawk mimicry. However, drongo nest survival was high relative to other potential host species with similar nesting ecology, suggesting that successful parasites secure high-quality care for their offspring.