Indirect estimates of breeding and natal philopatry in an obligate avian brood parasite

Mark E. Hauber, Bill M. Strausberger, Kevin A. Feldheim, Justin Lock, Phillip Cassey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In theory, obligate brood parasitic birds are freed from several of the temporal and spatial constraints of parental care for dependent young. Yet, similar to parental bird species, adults in several avian brood parasites show a territorial spacing system while breeding, including site fidelity within and across years. Banding-based capture and sighting studies are also suggestive of non-parasite-like lower levels of natal philopatry in avian brood parasites. We analyzed the potential correlation of physical distance with genetic structure of a Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater population, sampling parasitic chicks from nests across different temporal and spatial scales of its common host, the Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe, near Ithaca, New York, USA. In support of extensive breeding but not historical patterns of natal philopatry, we detected no significant covariation of genetic similarity by distance of nestling parasites at the scale beyond that of individual host nest sites. These results contribute towards a baseline for future behavioral and genetic comparisons of whether and how parasitic versus parental reproductive strategies impact patterns of avian population genetic structure across space and time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-475
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Ornithology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Breeding range
  • Brood parasite
  • Dispersal
  • Site fidelity
  • Territoriality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology


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