“Bending the Rules of Maternal Behavior: Host Defenses Against Brood Parasitism”

Brood-parasitic bird species, such as Brown-headed cowbirds, do not build their own nests, but lay and abandon their eggs in other species’ host nests. To avoid having to raise an unrelated brood parasitic young, some host species have evolved the ability to reject the parasitic eggs. I study the visual, cognitive, and hormonal mechanisms that allow brood parasite hosts to bend their maternal behavior to recognize and reject the foreign eggs from their nests. My work shows that hosts focus on specific colors when detecting the parasitic eggs, and that hormones linked to stress increase the likelihood of parasitic egg rejection.

Mikus Abolins-Abols is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.