If someone would bring their babies to you, asking you to raise them instead of your own children, would you ever agree to it? I’m sure none of you would. But what if I told you that this practice is very prevalent in the world of birds? It’s true. Brood parasitism is a practice wherein a bird species would lay its eggs in the nest of other species in secret. In this manner, they wouldn’t have to worry about caring for their own fledglings.
Here are 25 birds that practice brood parasitism:
- Common CuckoosShiny Cowbirds
- Pheasant Cuckoos
- Black-billed Cuckoos
- Quailfinch Indigobirds
- Levaillant’s Cuckoos
- Cameroon Indigobirds
- Fork-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo
- Steel-blue Whydahs
- Jacobin Cuckoos
- Dusky Indigobirds
- Violet Cuckoos
- Long-tailed Paradise Whydahs
- Pavonine Cuckoos
- Village Indigobirds
- Great Spotted Cuckoos
- Mustached Hawk-cuckoos
- Giant Cowbirds
- Asian Koels
- Black Cuckoos
- Bronzed Cowbirds
- Striped Cuckoos
- Jambandu Indigobirds
- Purple Indigobirds
Below in the article, we will learn more about these birds and their parasitic behavior.
Common Cuckoo (Cuculus Caronus)
The most common brood parasites in the avian world, the Common Cuckoos are medium-sized, migratory birds that spend their summers in Asia and Europe and travel to Africa during winters.
Common Cuckoos are obligate brood parasite species that are known to host over 100 bird species. Some of their common targets include reed warblers, pipits, redstarts, dunnocks, wagtails, and European Robins.
Both parent cuckoos, as well as their fledglings, are well-adapted to brood parasitism. The adults are good mimics; the males produce Sparrowhawk’s calls while the females lay their eggs in the host’s nest.
Their eggs, once hatched, are often known to push out the host’s eggs of their nest. But in some cases, they’re also seen being raised alongside the chicks of the host.
Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis)
Belonging to the New World Blackbird family, the Shiny Cowbirds are cowbirds that heavily populate South America but can also be found in the Caribbean and southern Florida, United States.
Just like the other cowbirds, these birds also practice obligate brood parasitism; never building their own nests. They have over 250 different host species, with their most common victim being the Rufous-collared Sparrows.
The female Shiny Cowbird prefers to host on a nest built in tree cavities for more safety. It’s also noticed that they distribute their eggs among different host nests instead of laying them all in a single nest.
This is perhaps because their fledglings are non-mimetic and might be rejected by some host species for the visible differences between them and their own fledglings or eggs.
Pheasant Cuckoo (Dromococcyx phasianellus)
Found in the lowland tropical forests of South and Central America, the Pheasant Cuckoos are a neotropical cuckoo species that possess large, pheasant-like tail feathers. These feathers are longest in the center and grow shorter on the sides.
Being brood parasitic, the parent Pheasant Cuckoos generally lay their eggs in the tyrant flycatcher family hosts. Barred Antshrikes, Pied Water Tyrant, and Yellow-olive Flatbills are some of their primary host species.
Cuckoo-finch (Anomalospiza imberbis)
Also referred to as “Cuckoo Weaver,” the Cuckoo-finches are small passerine birds that belonged to the cuckoo family earlier but are now placed in the Viduidae. They’re an African species and commonly occur in the grasslands south of the Sahara.
Being obligate brood parasites, the Cuckoo-finches seek to lay their eggs in the nest of other birds rather than constructing their own nests. Their common host targets include the nests of other small birds like Prinias and Cisticolas.
The eggs of Cuckoo-finches are highly variable and can appear brown, pale white, blue, or pink with diverse splotches and markings, perhaps in order to blend in with other birds’ eggs easily.
These birds often lay two of their eggs in a single nest. Their eggs take 14 days to incubate, after which host parents bring up the fledglings for the next 2-6 weeks.
Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus)
Similar to the Yellow-billed Cuckoos in appearance, the Black-billed Cuckoos are an American cuckoo species that breed in North and Central America and spend their winters in South America.
These red-eyed cuckoos are not necessarily parasitic. They’ve also been seen building loose structures of leaves and twigs as nests. However, when food is abundant around them, they generally prefer to lay their eggs in the nest of the host species.
Since parasitism is rarely seen in this species, we’re yet to learn more about their parasitic behavior.
Quailfinch Indigobird (Vidua nigeriae)
Quailfinch Indigobirds are a tiny songbird species that are endemic to the western and central parts of Africa. They’re a resident species that can be found in the river floodplains and other isolated landscapes of Africa all year long.
The Quailfinch Indigobirds are brood parasites with only one significant host species, the African Quailfinches. This choice is quite unusual because no other brood parasites are known to host on the Quailfinches. This host choice also lends them their name.
Quailfinch Indigobirds are less brutal than other brood parasites since they’ve never been found to destroy the eggs of their host; they simply add their own eggs to the brood of African Quailfinches.
Levaillant’s Cuckoo (Clamator levaillantii)
Named after the French ornithologist Francois Le Vaillant, the Levaillant’s Cuckoos are an African cuckoo species that remain as resident breeders in the bushy habitats south of the Sahara.
The female Levaillant’s Cuckoos generally pick the nests of babbler and bulbuls to lay their eggs. Among their common targets are the Arrow-marked Babblers, Bare-cheeked Babblers, Southern Pied Babblers, and Hartlaub’s Babblers.
Cameroon Indigobird (Vidua camerunensis)
Although the Cameroon Indigobirds were initially considered a subspecies of the Variable Indigobirds, they are now placed as an individual species.
These birds are found in Africa and heavily populate east Cameroon, after which they’ve been named. They have a distinct, blue-colored plumage and are found in savannahs and grasslands of South Africa.
The adult Cameroon Indigobirds have mastered the art of mimicry to help them in their parasitic activities. The males can mimic the song of any bird. When the females pick a host nest to lay their eggs in, their male counterparts will mimic the host’s song to keep them distracted.
The eggs of Cameroon Indigobirds are generally found in the nests of Brown and Dybowski’s Twinspots and African and Fire-bellied Firefinches.
Fork-tailed Drongo-Cuckoo (Surniculus dicruroides)
Although the Fork-tailed Drongo-cuckoos belong to the cuckoo family, their appearance closely resembles that of a Black Drongo, lending them their name. This resident species is mainly found in the hill forests of the Indian subcontinent.
These brood parasites host on the nests of the Old World Babblers. Some ornithologists also believe that their Drongo-like appearance helps them with parasitism, although we’re yet to reach the bottom of it.
Steel-blue Whydah (Vidua hypocherina)
Steel-blue Whydahs are an African whydah species that inhabits the dry savannahs within their range. They have a primarily black body with a steel-blue sheen on their back and wings and a long, black tail.
Although Steel-blue Whydahs belong to the brood parasite group, there is very little info about their parasitic behavior. All we know is that they host in the nests of Black-faced and Black-cheeked Waxbills.
Jacobin Cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus)
Also referred to as “Pied Cuckoo,” the Jacobin Cuckoos are cuckoo species found in Africa and Asia. These cuckoos have three subspecies and are partially migratory.
Jacobin Cuckoos are brood parasites that generally lay their eggs in the nest of the laughing thrush species. Some of their common targets include Common Babblers, Jungle Babblers, and Red-vented Bulbuls.
The female Jacobin Cuckoos are quite clumsy in the egg-laying process. They lay their eggs in other birds’ nests early in the morning and in a rush, often end up breaking a couple of hosts’ or their own eggs.
Dusky Indigobird (Vidua funerea)
Also referred to as the “Black Widowfinch,” the Dusky Indigobirds are a black-colored indigobird species with a widespread distribution throughout Africa. These birds primarily inhabit the moist savannahs within their range.
Dusky Indigobirds have a black face and body, including their eyes. Their bill is pale horn-colored, while the legs and feet are orangish in shade. Not much is known about their parasitic behavior, except that they host on the nests of the African Firefinches.
Violet Cuckoo (Chrysococcyx xanthorhynchus)
Violet Cuckoos are a brilliantly colored cuckoo species that are found in Southeast Asia and the northern parts of India, where they inhabit lowland and mangrove forests.
These birds have a wide habitat range with a scattered population, which makes it seem like their population is dwindling even though it isn’t.
Being brood parasites, the Violet Cuckoos place their eggs in host nests to be incubated and raised. Some of their common host species include Yellow-bellied Prinias, Grey-hooded Warblers, Common Tailorbirds, Zitting Cisticolas, and Abbot’s Warblers.
Long-tailed Paradise Whydah (Vidua paradisaea)
Also known as the “Eastern Paradise Whydah,” the Long-tailed Paradise Whydahs are small passerine birds endemic to the sub-Saharan regions of Africa.
As their name suggests, they have a long, black tail that grows narrower towards the tip; in length, this tail is more than three times their body. As these birds are sexually dimorphic, the long tail is only seen in males.
Long-tailed Paradise Whydahs are brood parasites, much like all the other whydahs, and lay their eggs in the nest of other songbirds. Among all hosts, the weaver finches are their common target.
Pavonine Cuckoo (Dromococcyx pavoninus)
Pavonine Cuckoos are short-crested, neotropical cuckoo species that have a remarkably long, graduated tail. They are primarily found in montane and lowland forests of South America and have a patchy population throughout their range.
Although the practice of brood parasitism is quite rare among the Amazonian birds, it is prevalent among the Pavonine Cuckoos. The eggs that the female Pavonine Cuckoos lay in their hosts’ nests appear significantly different from the rest of their eggs. Upon hatching, their chicks are known to brutally kill or remove the host eggs.
Among the common hosts of Pavonine Cuckoos are Plain Antvireo, Drab-breasted Bamboo Tyrants, Eared Pygmy Tyrants, and Ochre-faced Tody-flycatchers.
Village Indigobird (Vidua chalybeata)
Popularly known as the “Steelblue Widowfinch,” the Village Indigobirds are a South African Indigobird species that inhabit the Sahara Desert.
Village Indigobirds are brood parasites but lack the brutal tendency of destroying the hosts’ eggs while laying their own. When their eggs hatch, the Village Indigobird fledglings adopt a gaping pattern to co-exist peacefully with the hosts’ chicks without detection.
The Fire-bellied Firefinches are a major host species to these indigobirds.
Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandiarus)
The Great Spotted Cuckoos are among the larger cuckoo species that are endemic to Africa. They also have a wide population in the Mediterranean Basin.
Although these cuckoos are only marginally larger than Common Cuckoos, their broader wings and long tail gives them a much larger impression. Their head and upperparts are dark grey, while the underside is white with yellowish touches.
Great Spotted Cuckoos have a peculiar tendency of hosting on the nests of corvids, with a special preference for the Eurasian Magpies. As parasites, these cuckoos are quite harmless; both parents and chicks do not evict the hosts’ eggs or chicks. However, since the cuckoo chicks are larger, corvid chicks fail in the competition of food and end up dying.
Mustached Hawk-cuckoo (Hierococcyx vagans)
The Moustached Hawk-cuckoo is a near-threatened cuckoo species found in the Asian countries of Thailand, Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, and Indonesia. They primarily dwell in evergreen and secondary forests and are threatened by habitat loss.
Although Moustached Hawk cuckoos are brood parasites, very little is known about their parasitic behavior. Three of their common hosts are Abbott’s Babblers, Asian Paradise Flycatchers, and Rufous-winged Philentomas.
Giant Cowbird (Molothrus oryzivorus)
As their name indicates, the Giant Cowbirds are large members of the New World Blackbird family. These birds are found on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago and in Argentina and Mexico.
Giant Cowbirds are brood parasites just like the other cowbirds. They lay their eggs in the nests of the Caciques and Oropendolas. Because they have lesser hosting opportunities within their range than they would’ve liked, you can spot the eggs of several Giant Cowbirds in the same host’s nest at times.
Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus)
As their name suggests, the Asian Koels are cuckoo species found in southeast Asia, China, and the Indian subcontinent. The adult Asian Koels are highly sexually dimorphic, with the males having an overall black plumage, with their female counterparts having a barred brown appearance. However, both sexes possess red eyes.
Asian Koels lay only one egg at a time. These are brood parasites that lay their egg in the nests of corvids, particularly House Crows and Jungle Crows. On rare occasions, their eggs have also been found in the nests of Black-headed Orioles, European Magpies, Long-tailed Shrikes, and Black Drongos.
Black Cuckoo (Cuculus clamosus)
Black Cuckoos are medium-sized birds that heavily populate the riverside woodlands and plantations of sub-Saharan Africa.
Some subspecies of these cuckoos are migratory; they breed in Southern Africa and travel to the Central, Western, and Eastern parts of their range during winters. As their name suggests, they possess a mainly black plumage, with some variation seen among the subspecies.
Black Cuckoos often host on bushshrikes, with the Crimson-breasted Shrikes and Tropical Boubous being their major victims. Although the parent cuckoos do no harm to their hosts’ eggs, their fledglings will evict any other egg they can find in the nest upon hatching.
Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus)
Often referred to as the “Red-eyed Cowbird,” the Bronzed Cowbirds are a cowbird species endemic to North and Central America. They have three subspecies and are known to inhabit feedlots, brushes, and farmlands.
Both sexes of the adults have mainly black plumage, although the males are a lot shinier than their female counterparts.
The Bronzed Cowbirds are brood parasites and lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, particularly White-naped Brush Finches and Prevost’s Ground-sparrows.
Striped Cuckoo (Tapera naevia)
Being the monotypic member of their genus, the Striped Cuckoos are near-passerine birds that reside permanently in South America. They ideally dwell in open country landscapes as well as forest edges.
Although Striped Cuckoos generally host on the nests of ovenbirds, in some cases, they will also host on wrens’ nests. While the parents do not harm their hosts’ eggs, the young cuckoo chicks have often made them disappear upon hatching.
Jambandu Indigobird (Vidua raricola)
Also referred to as the “Goldbreast Indigobird,” the Jambandu Indigobirds are an African indigobird species that primarily inhabit brushes and savannahs within their range. Jambandu Indigobirds are also a brood parasite species that host on the nests of the orange-breasted Waxbills.
Purple Indigobird (Vidua purpurascens)
Purple Indigobirds are an African Indigobird species that inhabit the dry savannahs. They have dark violet-colored bodies with pale bills, legs, and feet. As brood parasites, they’re known to lay their eggs in the nests of Jameson’s Firefinches.
And that’s it. We’ve reached the end of this article. If you’ve ever felt curious about how the nest-less birds raise their young ones, you needn’t wonder anymore.
While the practice of brood parasites seems brutal and unfair for the hosts, it has existed as a law in the avian world since ancient times. The poor hosts have no way to put an end to this as they’re less powerful than the parasites. The only choice they have is to look after their eggs and fledglings as diligently as they can.