Egg rejection behaviour in the great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus): The effect of egg type

Marcel Honza, Csaba Moskát

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

16 Citations (Scopus)


Egg discrimination in hosts of the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus is frequently studied by experimental parasitism, using model cuckoo eggs. We compared egg rejection behaviour of the great reed warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus to either model cuckoo eggs made of plastic or painted real host eggs. We simultaneously parasitised host nests by two different egg types to simulate cuckoo parasitism. A previous study revealed very similar, ca. 70%, rejection rates against both of these egg types (beige or bluish background colour maculated with dark brown) when they were used for single parasitism. In the present study we showed 96% average rejection rates against these egg types when they were applied in multiple experimental parasitism, causing a more predictable output for rejection behaviour. Hard plastic eggs and painted real eggs were rejected at similar frequencies, and videotaping revealed that model egg rejection caused extra work for great reed warblers. We revealed a new type of rejection behaviour, when hosts tried to eject hard-shelled model cuckoo eggs: Hosts made little holes in the middle part of these plastic eggs by pecking them several times before ejection, as if seeking the possibility to pierce and hold these eggs in their bills. Painted real eggs were rejected by actually puncturing the eggshell and holding them in the bill during ejection. No instances of grasp ejection were recorded during filming. Most experimental eggs of either type were ejected within 1 day after the introduction of the eggs, indicating that hosts made their rejection decisions quickly. Our observations suggest the lack of plasticity in the mode and timing of ejection behaviour towards experimental cuckoo eggs of different types in great reed warblers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-395
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Ethology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2008



  • Brood parasitism
  • Cuculus canorus
  • Decision making
  • Egg ejection
  • Hosts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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