Cowbird Chicks Benefit From Rapid Embryo Growth

February 11th, 2013

This cowbird chick accepts food from its smaller "parent" in an insidious form of parasitism.

This cowbird chick accepts food from its smaller "parent" in an insidious form of parasitism.

Cowbirds are a particularly insidious kind of parasite.  Like people who fake breakdowns on the side of deserted highways then rob anyone who stops to help, cowbirds take advantage of the good nature of their hosts for their own selfish needs — often harming the host’s own offspring in the process. Cowbirds lay their eggs in another bird’s nest, then the cowbird young hatches first and takes the attention of the host parents’ attention.  But cowbirds have thick eggshells — perhaps as a protective factor against being broken by hosts who recognize the imposter egg — so they should hatch later.  Researchers from Illinois Wesleyan University and other institutions have determined that cowbird eggs demonstrate increased gas permeability, allowing the embryos to develop faster.  They collected eggs and stored them in a laboratory freezer until ready for analysis.

For further information visit people.oregonstate.edu.


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