The Birds

Brood-parasitic study systems

In Zambia we study four different groups of brood parasitic birds and their hosts, as well as some interesting non-parasitic birds, too.

Cuckoo Finch egg circle

Cuckoo Finches

Cuckoo Finches Anomalospiza imberbis are brood parasitic finches that exploit various species of warblers as their hosts. They have evolved beautiful mimicry not only of their different host species, but also of different host colour and patterns, or ‘forgeries’ to their hosts’ egg ‘signatures’.
Read more here…

Honeyguide

Greater and Lesser Honeyguides

Honeyguides are intriguingly bizarre birds with respect to most aspects of their lives. They guide humans to bees’ nests, are unusually brutal brood parasites of other birds and, it turns out, have a remarkably ancient history of specialisation on their particular host species.
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African Cuckoo

African and Diederik Cuckoos

African Cuckoo eggs are probably the very best forgeries of any brood parasitic egg in the world. They can so closely resemble those of their hosts that neither we nor the hosts can tell them apart.
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Indigobird

Vidua Finches: Whydahs and Indigobirds

Vidua finches, the indigobirds and whydahs, belong to the same family as Cuckoo Finches but have a fascinatingly different brood parasitic system involving beautiful mimicry of their host chicks’ bizarrely pattern mouthparts.
Read more here…

Other interesting things we study in Choma

Great Reed Warbler

Migratory Birds

Marjorie Sorensen carried out her PhD research on the intriguing and little-known winter ecology of Palearctic-breeding migratory birds (Willow Warblers and Great Reed Warblers) that spend the non-breeding season in Zambia.
Read more here…

FN Nightjar

Nest Camouflage

We study camouflage and thermal ecology of eggs, chicks and incubating adults of ground-nesting birds in Choma: nightjars, coursers and plovers.
Read more here…

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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