A stab in the dark: chick killing by brood parasitic honeyguides
Spottiswoode, C.N., J. Koorevaar
Royal Society Publishing
The most virulent avian brood parasites obligately kill host young soon after hatching, thus ensuring their monopoly of host parental care. While the host eviction behaviour of cuckoos (Cuculidae) is well documented, the host killing behaviour of honeyguide (Indicatoridae) chicks has been witnessed only once, 60 years ago, and never in situ in host nests. Here, we report from the Afrotropical greater honeyguide the first detailed observations of honeyguides killing host chicks with their specially adapted bill hooks, based on repeated video recordings (available in the electronic supplementary material). Adult greater honeyguides puncture host eggs when they lay their own, but in about half of host nests at least one host egg survived, precipitating chick killing by the honeyguide hatchling. Hosts always hatched after honeyguide chicks, and were killed within hours. Despite being blind and in total darkness, honeyguides attacked host young with sustained biting, grasping and shaking motions. Attack time of 1-5 min was sufficient to cause host death, which took from 9 min to over 7 h from first attack. Honeyguides also bit unhatched eggs and human hands, but only rarely bit the host parents feeding them.