Proximate predictors of variation in egg rejection behavior by hosts of avian brood parasites.

Mikus Abolins-Abols, Mark E. Hauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The rejection of parasitic eggs by hosts of avian brood parasites is one of the most common and effective defenses against parasitism. Despite its adaptive significance, egg rejection often shows substantial intraspecific variation: some individuals are more likely to remove or abandon parasitic eggs than others. Understanding variation in egg rejection requires that we study factors linked to the ability to perceive parasitic eggs as well as factors that may influence the rejection of a foreign egg once it has been recognized. Here, we asked what cognitive, physiological, and life-history factors explained variation in the rejection of model eggs by American robin (Turdus migratorius) females. We found that the probability of egg rejection was related to the clutch size at the time of parasitism: In support of Weber’s law, females with fewer eggs were more likely to reject the model eggs. In turn, females with greater mass and higher corticosterone levels were less likely to reject eggs, and egg rejection probability was negatively related to incubation progress. Our data thus suggest that proximate predictors of an individual’s egg rejection behavior include the cognitive environment of the nest, life-history factors, as well as the physiological state of the subject. However, much of the statistical variation in the egg rejection responses of robins to the model eggs remained unexplained. Future experiments should aim to test the causal roles of these and other factors in generating within- and among-individual variation in the rejection of parasitic eggs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)412-422
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020


  • American robin
  • brood parasitism
  • corticosterone
  • egg rejection
  • host defenses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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