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Who Cares? Males Provide Most Parental Care in a Monogamous Nesting Cuckoo

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Cuckoos hold a prominent position in the study of parental care, because they show the greatest variation of any bird family in the way they care for their offspring. Despite this, few data are available on cuckoos with biparental care even though it is the most common form of parental care in cuckoos and birds in general. Here I describe the breeding behaviour of the pheasant coucal, Centropus phasianinus, an old-world nesting cuckoo. I show that males almost exclusively build the nest and incubate and brood the young alone both at night and during the day. The incubation pattern of short, c. 40 min bouts on the nest interspersed with 20 min frequent recesses is well suited to incubation by a single parent and is widespread amongst birds. Males also defend the nestlings and deliver 80% of the feeds to the young consisting of insects (65%), frogs and reptiles. Females did not compensate for their fewer feeding visits by delivering more vertebrates than males. Although coucal males get little help feeding, the hourly feeding rate of 3.8 feeds per brood (1.4 feeds/nestling) exceed that of the few nesting cuckoos studied to date and matches that of other tropical non-passerines. Predominantly male care is found in less than 5% of birds, mainly species with reversed sexual size dimorphism or reversed sex-roles. Its evolution, especially in monogamous species, remains puzzling. The breeding behaviour of pheasant coucals illustrates a possible transitional stage in the evolution of polyandry and interspecific brood parasitism in cuckoos.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0310.2008.01498.x

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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