Many avian hosts have evolved antiparasite defence mechanisms, including egg rejection, to reduce the costs of brood parasitism. The two main alternative cognitive mechanisms of egg discrimination are thought to be based on the perceived discordancy of eggs in a clutch or the use of recognition templates by hosts. Our experiments reveal that the great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus), a host of the common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), relies on both mechanisms. In support of the discordancy mechanism, hosts rejected their own eggs (13%) and manipulated ('parasitic') eggs (27%) above control levels in experiments when manipulated eggs were in the majority but when clutches also included a minority of own eggs. Hosts that had the chance to observe the manipulated eggs daily just after laying did not show stronger rejection of manipulated eggs than when the eggs were manipulated at clutch completion. When clutches contained only manipulated eggs, in 33% of the nests hosts showed rejection, also supporting a mechanism of template-based egg discrimination. Rejection using a recognition template might be more advantageous because discordancy-based egg discrimination is increasingly error prone with higher rates of multiple parasitism.
Moskat, C., Ban, M., Szekely, T., Komdeur, J., Lucassen, R. W. G., van Boheemen, L. A., & Hauber, M. E. (2010). Discordancy or template-based recognition? Dissecting the cognitive basis of the rejection of foreign eggs in hosts of avian brood parasites. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 213(11), 1976-1983. https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.040394