Male common cuckoos use a three-note variant of their “cu-coo” call for duetting with conspecific females

Csaba Moskát, Márk E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Duetting is a coordinated form of acoustic communication with participants uttering calls or songs simultaneously and/or sequentially. Duetting is often observed in pair-bonded species, with mated females and males both contributing to the communal vocal output. We observed duetting between the sexes in the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), an obligate brood parasitic species without known pair formation. Specifically, female cuckoos use their sex-specific bubbling calls for duetting, while male cuckoos use a 3-note variant (“cu-cu-coo”) of their typical and well-known 2-note (“cu-coo”) territorial advertisement calls. The maximum frequency of the elements in the male's 3-note variants was higher relative to the 2-note calls, while durations of both the elements and the inter-element intervals were shorter. The vast majority (95 %) of the 3-note calling was detected together with the bubbling call, implying an intersexual duetting function, with the female calls preceding these male calls in 67 % of cases. The two call types in duetting followed each other rapidly (mean response time of females was 1.30 ± 0.71 SD s, and 0.76 ± 0.53 SD s in males), and typically overlapped with each other (95 %). Frequently (90 %), the male call was repeated 2–3 times, whereas the female call was repeated less frequently (9%). Our results are consistent with a main function of duetting in intersexual communication and coordination between female and male cuckoos.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104472
JournalBehavioural Processes
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Brood parasite
  • Duetting
  • Pair bonding
  • Vocalisation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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