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Brood Parasitism in a Host Generalist, the Shiny Cowbird: I. The Quality of Different Species as Hosts

Paul Mason
The Auk
Vol. 103, No. 1 (Jan., 1986), pp. 52-60
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4086963
Page Count: 9
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Brood Parasitism in a Host Generalist, the Shiny Cowbird: I. The Quality of Different Species as Hosts
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Abstract

The Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) of South America, Panama, and the West Indies is an obligate brood parasite known to have used 176 species of birds as hosts. This study documents wide variability in the quality of real and potential hosts in terms of response to eggs, nestling diet, and nest survivorship. The eggs of the parasite are either spotted or immaculate in eastern Argentina and neighboring parts of Uruguay and Brazil. Most species accept both morphs of cowbird eggs, two reject both morphs, and one (Chalk-browed Mockinbird, Mimus saturninus) rejects immaculate eggs but accepts spotted ones. No species, via its rejection behavior, protects the Shiny Cowbird from competition with a potential competitor, the sympatric Screaming Cowbird (M. rufoaxillaris). Cross-fostering experiments and natural-history observations indicate that nestling cowbirds require a diet composed of animal protein. Because most passerines provide their nestlings with such food, host selection is little restricted by diet. Species-specific nest survivorship, adjusted to appropriate values of Shiny Cowbird life-history variables, varied by over an order of magnitude. Shiny Cowbirds peck host eggs. This density-dependent source of mortality lowers the survivorship of nests of preferred hosts and creates natural selection for greater generalization. Host quality is sensitive to the natural-history attributes of each host species and to the behavior of cowbirds at nests.

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