Parasitic egg rejection decisions of chalk-browed mockingbirds Mimus saturninus are independent of clutch composition

M. A. de la Colina, L. Pompilio, M. E. Hauber, J. C. Reboreda, B. Mahler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Obligate avian brood parasites lay their eggs in nests of other host species, which assume all the costs of parental care for the foreign eggs and chicks. The most common defensive response to parasitism is the rejection of foreign eggs by hosts. Different cognitive mechanisms and decision-making rules may guide both egg recognition and rejection behaviors. Classical optimization models generally assume that decisions are based on the absolute properties of the options (i.e., absolute valuation). Increasing evidence shows instead that hosts’ rejection decisions also depend on the context in which options are presented (i.e., context-dependent valuation). Here we study whether the chalk-browed mockingbird’s (Mimus saturninus) rejection of parasitic shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) eggs is a fixed behavior or varies with the context of the clutch. We tested three possible context-dependent mechanisms: (1) range effect, (2) habituation to variation, and (3) sensitization to variation. We found that mockingbird rejection of parasitic eggs does not change according to the characteristics of the other eggs in the nest. Thus, rejection decisions may exclusively depend on the objective characteristics of the eggs, meaning that the threshold of acceptance or rejection of a foreign egg is context-independent in this system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-305
Number of pages5
JournalAnimal cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • Brood parasitism
  • Chalk-browed mockingbird
  • Cognitive mechanism
  • Egg rejection
  • Shiny cowbird

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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