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March 20th  2011    Tim Candler

    Two percent of birds are polyandrous, which means that eggs in the same nest can have the same mother and different fathers.  The Dunnock is a polyandrous, European,  insect eating bird, about the size of an American Field  Sparrow.

    They are quiet, soft looking creatures that can be easily confused with Sparrows, especially when near a bird feeder.  The Dunnock is the one that never feeds on the bird table, but can often be seen scratching around beneath the bird table. 

    Cuckoos that visit Europe, spend their winters in tropical Africa.  They are about the size of an American Robin and they will lay up to twenty eggs in a season.  Before she lays an egg a Cuckoo will internally incubate her egg for up to a day so that when it meets the nest it will be the first to hatch.

        Cuckoos are Brood Parasites.  They lay their eggs in the nests of others, leaving them  free to flit around discuss weightier matters.  When a female Cuckoo comes into the world, she will for ever afterwards recognize her adopted mother, and when her own turn comes to discuss weightier matters she'll  find a nest belonging to someone familiar in which to lay her egg.

      Many birds have learned to recognize their own eggs, and odd colored eggs in the nest are ejected quickly.  Cuckoos have a genetic ability to adjust their eggs to meet the standards of their host nests.  This happens over time. Generation after generation until something desperate happens.

    But even though Dunnock eggs are blue and unspotted, Dunnocks do not recognize them, and so Dunnocks  are a major host for those Cuckoos in search of new beginnings.  And one day I imagine Dunnocks will also get picky or soon there'll be none of them left.

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