The interaction between brood parasitic cuckoos and their hosts represents a traditional example of coevolution, whereby obligate interspecific brood parasitic cuckoos completely rely on their hosts to do their parental care for them by laying their eggs in the host’s nest. This thesis brings together a great deal of information documenting and clarifying the interactions between different species of hosts and their respective parasitic cuckoos in Bangladesh. I recorded parasitism rates to determine the extent of brood parasitism and to identify the host species that were parasitised by sympatric cuckoos. Four parasitic cuckoos were documented: the Asian koel ( Eudynamys scolopacea), the common hawk cuckoo (Cuculus varius; previously known as Hierococcyx varius), the pied cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus) and the Indian cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus). These cuckoos were sympatric and parasitised different host species, including the house crow (Corvus splendens), the long-tailed shrike (Lanius schach), the common myna (Acridotheres tristis), the jungle babbler (Turdoides striatus) and the black drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus). All of these cuckoo species are obligate brood parasites. The Asian koel utilised the following three hosts: the house crow, the common myna and the long-tailed shrike. The latter was recorded for the first time as a host for the Asian koel in Bangladesh. We found that koel eggs were highly non-mimetic to those of common myna and long-tailed shrike, but showed good mimicry to house crow eggs. Indian cuckoos showed excellent egg mimicry with the eggs of their black drongo hosts, as did common hawk cuckoos and pied cuckoos with their jungle babbler host. The hosts accepted the eggs of all four cuckoo species. However, the common myna was more likely to abandon nests parasitised by the koel than unparasitised ones. All of the host species suffered the costs of koel parasitism, showing reduced breeding success. Proximity to fruit trees was an important predictor of the probability of parasitism in the three koel host species studied. There was a significant positive relationship between nest volume and probability of parasitism by Asian koels. Furthermore, the colonial breeding house crows suffered comparatively less parasitism than the other two koel host species. Long-tailed shrike nests close to conspecific neighbours were less likely to be parasitised, and the risk of parasitism was increased in nests lower to the ground. The risk of parasitism increased during the breeding season for house crows and common mynas. All three Asian koel hosts tolerated multiple parasitism. We investigated whether there was any interspecific competition among the sympatric cuckoos. In theory, sympatric parasites should show niche segregation through variation in host use. As predicted, each cuckoo species parasitised different host species; however, host use overlapped in common hawk cuckoos and pied cuckoos, but interspecific competition was reduced because these two cuckoo species have different breeding seasons. Furthermore, there was a significant difference in parasitism rate among the three main habitats: human habitations, mixed scrub forests and monoculture plantations. This indicated that different cuckoos favour specific habitats, even if their favourite host also occurs elsewhere. Finally, I tested responses against foreign eggs by the cuckoo hosts as well as by potential cuckoo hosts in the study area. For this purpose, I used differently sized and coloured model eggs. Common mynas and jungle babblers accepted all non-mimetic eggs, as did most of the house crows (91 %). Long-tailed shrikes rejected 75 % of the non-mimetic model eggs. Finally, black drongos turned out to be strong rejectors and could do so without damaging any of their own eggs, most likely because they grasped and ejected the non-mimetic model egg. This result indicates that the black drongo has been in a coevolutionary arms race with the Indian cuckoo since drongos accepted mimetic cuckoo eggs. Species such as the Oriental magpie robin (Copsychus saularis), red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) and Asian pied starling (Gracupica contra), which likely have no history of interaction with cuckoos, accepted 100 % of the non-mimetic model eggs.
In conclusion, our findings describe host nest use cues used by the Asian koel, which may provide background for further studies in other sympatric brood parasites. In spite of the high degree of acceptance of parasitic eggs, the breeding success of both cuckoos and hosts should be more closely studied to obtain a better understanding of the costs of parasitism. Future experimental studies are highly recommended to achieve a better understanding of host responses to Asian cuckoo species.