Activities per year
The arms race between brood parasites and their hosts has led to many different host behaviours for avoiding parasitism. Some of these behaviours are social, and require the presence of conspecifics to work effectively: in response to alarm calls, some species engage in mobbing behaviour where neighbours join nest tenants in attacking and repelling an invading brood parasite. There are risks involved for the neighbours, but it has been demonstrated that social mobbing allows individuals to learn about the presence of brood parasites in the environment, suggesting that social learning is occurring. Here, I consider whether using social signals to alert naive individuals to the presence of brood parasites is a suitable strategy, compared with sitting tight on the nest in response to the signal (which should reduce the chances of being parasitized). I also compare the efficiency of these strategies with the case where individuals fail to change behaviour in response a brood parasite. Using an individual-based simulation model, I demonstrate that both mobbing and sitting tight are effective strategies in response to a signal, and that mobbing is more effective when the chances of being parasitized increase. These results are discussed and compared with known host–brood parasite relationships.