Cuckoos save chicks from identity crisis


FAR from completely abandoning their offspring in the nests of other birds, cuckoos return to teach them that they are not “ugly ducklings”. Most birds learn to recognise their own species by identifying with their siblings or parents. This ability was thought to be innate in cuckoos, but brothers Manuel and Juan José Soler of the University of Granada in Spain found that great spotted cuckoo chicks (Clamator glandarius) raised alone in magpie nests could not recognise each other (Animal Cognition, vol 2, p 97). The brothers’ field observations also showed that adult cuckoos often visited nests and maintained vocal contact with fledglings. “Species recognition in this cuckoo is not innate,
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