Female-female aggression and male responses to the two colour morphs of female common cuckoos

Csaba Moskát, Márk E. Hauber, Jana Růžičková, Attila Marton, Miklós Bán, Zoltán Elek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Female-only colour polymorphism is rare in birds, but occurs in brood parasitic cuckoos (Cuculidae). Obligate brood parasites leave incubation and parental care to other species (hosts), so female-female interactions can play a role in how parasites guard critical resources (host nests) within their laying areas. The plumage of adult female common cuckoos (Cuculus canorus) is either rufous (typically rare) or grey (common), whereas adult male conspecifics are monochromatic (grey). In previous studies, hosts and conspecific males responded with less intensity toward the rare female morph in support of a negative frequency-dependent benefit of female plumage polychromatism. Here, we assessed responses of both conspecific females and males to vocal playbacks of female calls, coupled with one of two 3D models of the different morphs of female cuckoos. At our study population, the rufous female morph was as common as the grey morph; therefore, we predicted similarly high rates of conspecific responses in both treatments. Both female and male cuckoos responded to playbacks acoustically, which demonstrated the primary role of acoustic communication in social interactions amongst cuckoos. Following this, some cuckoos flew closer to the models to inspect them visually. As predicted, no significant differences were detected between the live cuckoos’ responses toward the two colour morphs in this population. We conclude that dichromatism in female cuckoos evolved to serve one or more functions other than conspecific signalling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number28
JournalScience of Nature
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020


  • 3D model
  • Acoustic playback
  • Colour polymorphism
  • Female-female aggression
  • Territory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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