Given the high costs of avian obligate brood parasitism, host individuals are selected to reject parasitic eggs they recognize as foreign. We show that rejection may not necessarily follow egg discrimination when selective removal of the parasitic egg is difficult. We studied egg rejection behaviour in a small host of the common cuckoo Cuculus canorus, the eastern olivaceous warbler Hippolais pallida, by experimental parasitism with model and real non-mimetic cuckoo eggs and video recordings of host behaviour. Hosts pecked 87 per cent (20 out of 23) of the model eggs but eventually accepted 43.5 per cent (10 out of 23) of them. A similar pattern was found for real cuckoo eggs, which were all pecked, but as many as 47 per cent (7 out of 15) of them were accepted. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of a cuckoo host discriminating against real parasitic eggs but often accepting them. Our results also show that in host species experiencing difficulties in performing puncture ejection, non-mimetic cuckoo eggs may avoid rejection by means of their unusually high structural strength
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