ABSTRACT

Hosts of brood parasitic Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) have acquired a suite of behavioral responses against them, including egg rejection and nest defense. Several cavity-nesting species have been shown to exhibit egg rejection, including the Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides). Previous work reported egg rejection rates as low as 20%, under the assumption that they may instead be relying heavily on aggressive interactions to defend their nests from parasitism. In the present study, we evaluated the egg rejection and aggression behaviors of a population of Mountain Bluebirds in western Montana. Results indicate a higher rate of rejection than previously documented, with model cowbird eggs rejected in over 40% of trials (n = 37), compared with 5% rejection of mimetic eggs. In contrast, we found little aggressive response by Mountain Bluebirds toward both an adult cowbird model and a nonthreatening American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) model. Aggression patterns were consistent between sexes, with the most common behaviors including sitting and watching from within 5 m and flying past the models (n = 21). Hovering above the model was observed on a few occasions, and physical contact by bluebirds happened on only 3 occasions toward the goldfinch model. In summary, Mountain Bluebirds in western Montana showed relatively high rates of cowbird egg rejection but little aggressive response toward adult heterospecific nest intruders.

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