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Why Dr Steve Portugal is going cuckoo for eggs this Easter...

Posted on 12/04/2017

A selection of bird eggs photographed by G. Maurer

You might want to be extra careful this Easter when choosing your chocolate treats as it appears that imposter eggs are afoot...

But fear not! Dr Steve Portugal from the School of Biological Sciences is on the case, cracking the mysteries of how cuckoos get away with hiding their eggs in other bird's nests.

The cunning cuckoos' camouflage eggs

Cuckoos are canny when it comes to parenting, laying their eggs in other birds' nests for them to raise. This remarkable tactic leaves host birds to feed and parent young cuckoos, often to the detriment of their own children. The sneaky cuckoo will often forcibly evict his adopted brothers and sisters from the nest to take advantage of the unknowing parent.

To understand more about these fascinating imposter-chicks, Dr Portugal's project investigates the physiology, energetics and morphology of cuckoo embryonic development, particularly in comparison to their hosts.

Freaks of the animal kingdom

"People have been fascinated by the ability of cuckoos to mimic the egg patterning of their hosts for centuries. I am interested in what makes the embryo developing inside the cuckoo egg so special. Upon hatching, the recently hatched cuckoo chick begins to evict the eggs and chicks of the host species, showing incredible strength for an altricial chick," said Dr Portugal.

With fieldwork in Panama, Czech Republic, Australia and the USA the project will answer how eggshells of different species are adapted to their specific nest environment, both in structure, colour and physiology. Keep up to date with his work on his blog.

"I’m interested in the freaks of the animal kingdom, particularly animals that have slightly strange ways of getting about or getting their food," Dr Portugal commented.

Happy Easter everyone

So when tucking into your Easter treats this weekend, you might want to check that yours hasn't been infiltrated by a cunning cuckoo hungry for your share of treats!

Read more about Dr Portugal's freaky animals on The Conversation or learn more about studying with experts in the School of Biological Sciences.



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