Brood Parasitism: The Secret World of Nest Cheaters

Written By Parag Kokane on Sunday, April 21, 2024 | 12:37 PM

Brood parasitism, a strategy used by certain birds to ensure their young are raised at the expense of others, showcases some of nature's most cunning survival tactics. Birds that engage in this behavior have developed a variety of sophisticated methods to deceive their hosts and secure advantages for their offspring.

The Fascinating Tactics of Brood Parasites

Egg Mimicry:

Some birds, like the Common Hawk-Cuckoo, lay eggs that look very similar to the eggs of the bird whose nest they are using. This helps their eggs blend in, so the host bird doesn’t notice anything odd and ends up caring for these foreign eggs as if they were their own.

Timing of Laying:

The timing when these eggs are laid is also important. Birds like the Jacobin Cuckoo lay their eggs just a little earlier than the host bird. This means that the parasitic bird's chicks hatch first, get more attention, and have more room in the nest, often at the cost of the host’s own chicks.

Chick Behavior:

Chicks of parasitic birds can be very aggressive from a young age. Some, like cuckoo chicks, even have special hooks on their backs that they use to push other eggs or chicks out of the nest. This ensures they get all the food and care from the host bird.

Adult Bird Behavior:

Some adult parasitic birds, such as the female Asian Koel, keep an eye on the host’s nest to make sure their eggs are being taken care of. If the host bird finds and tries to remove the parasitic eggs, the parasitic bird may lay more eggs or even harm the host’s eggs to make sure their own eggs are safe.

Vocal Mimicry:

Some parasitic chicks can even mimic the sounds of the host’s chicks. This trick is so good that the host birds can’t tell the difference and end up feeding the parasitic chicks just like their own.

Examples of Brood Parasitism in Indian Birds

In India, brood parasitism is most famously exemplified by the cuckoos, a family that includes several species adept at this deceptive practice. Here are some detailed examples.

Common Hawk-Cuckoo: The Trickster

The Common Hawk-Cuckoo (पावशा, पपीहा), often called the "brain fever bird" because of its loud, repetitive calls, cleverly lays its eggs in the nests of Jungle Babblers (Turdoides striata). The cuckoo's eggs remarkably mimic the appearance of the babbler's eggs, making them hard to distinguish. These cuckoos have a grayish-brown body, with streaks and bars that give them a hawk-like appearance, aiding them in deceiving potential host birds about their true identity.

Asian Koel: A Sneaky Bird

The Asian Koel (कोकीळ, कोयल) is particularly noted for its parasitic behavior towards crows, such as the House Crow (Corvus splendens) and the Jungle Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos). Male Koels are sleek, glossy black with striking red eyes, while females have a variegated brown and white plumage with spots and streaks. This camouflage helps the female Koel blend in with crow populations, allowing her to sneak into their nests and lay her eggs unnoticed. The Koel chicks are known for hatching earlier than crow chicks and can aggressively outcompete their host siblings.

Jacobin Cuckoo: The Rain Bird

Also known as the Pied Cuckoo (चातक), this bird is considered a sign that the monsoon rains are coming soon. It prefers to parasitize the nests of babblers and sparrows. With a distinctive black and white plumage that stands out, this cuckoo times the laying of its eggs so that its chicks hatch right around the onset of the monsoon, ensuring an abundance of insects and other food resources brought by the host parents during this plentiful season.

What This Means for Nature

Though it might seem unfair, brood parasitism is an important part of nature. It causes birds to evolve and adapt in interesting ways. Host birds try to get better at spotting impostor eggs, and parasitic birds keep improving their disguise and tricks. This push and pull between different species shows how animals constantly adapt to survive and thrive.


About Parag Kokane

With my camera and binoculars, I wander through the beautiful landscapes of the Western Ghats, capturing the amazing wildlife and nature around us. On this blog, you'll find exciting wildlife observations, my thoughts on protecting nature, and more. Join me as we explore and help protect the beauty of our world together.


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