Professor Nick Davies, who offers this week’s Darwin Lecture, has actually been researching reed warblers for more than 30 years – and also has unlocked countless of the keys of their intermmsanotherstage2019.comtions v the cuckoo. His job-related shines irradiate on the evolutionary gamings played the end in nature as varieties compete with ecological pressures, with various other species, and with opposing sex, to pass on your genes.

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I gain most of my concepts by watching animals and also simply asking ‘I wonder why they’re law that?’ The an essential to research is comes up through a an excellent question and devising an experiment come answer it.

Nick Davies

Reed warblers are a little smaller 보다 sparrows and emmsanotherstage2019.comh one weighs no much more than a big envelope. As autumn begins they migrate some 5,000 km from Britain to West Africa, a journey they could make just two or three times in their short lives. In April castle fly phibìc to each other in the watery landscapes of northern Europe wherein they raise their young in swarms suspended indigenous reeds. Occasionally they are tricked right into raising cuckoo chicken which grow to 4 times their size. 

In his book  Cuckoo - Cheating by Nature, Nick Davies (Department the Zoology) describes what it’s choose to clock reed warblers at the mmsanotherstage2019.combridgeshire nature to make reservation of Wicken Fen. He carefully parts the reeds till he have the right to see a pair the warblers feeding their young in a nest. That senses the parents’ urgency in collecting insects for their chicks while keeping them warm and also staying alert for indicators of danger. As soon as several hrs later that stands up, the intimate civilization of the warbler disappears right into the great expanse of fenland and the large East angolanian skies.

Observation remains vital to learning much more about the world, trust Davies. “There’s still plenty much more to learn from walk out right into nature and watching carefully,” the says. “I get most the my principles by the town hall animals and simply questioning ‘I wonder why they’re act that?’ The key to research study is comes up with a great question and devising one experiment come answer it.”

Davies, who gives this week"s Darwin great (Games pets Play), has actually been examining reed warblers in ~ Wicken Fen for much more than 30 years. He think of them as ‘his’ warblers and calls his interest in your lives, and also their vulnerable niche within a changing environment, a sort of obsession. In the procedure of countless early mornings, and dozens that experiments, he and also his colleagues have slowly unlocked few of the keys of warblers’ intermmsanotherstage2019.comtions through cuckoos, that ‘parasitise’ various other birds.


In an endless game of trickery and also defence, the cuckoo and its hosts communicate in an ‘arms rmmsanotherstage2019.come’ including mimicry of plenty of kinds – indigenous the patterning of egg to the demanding twittering of chicken – as the two species weigh up the risks of gift duped and discovered. Reed warblers sometimes disapprove eggs that don’t look like their very own – but what proof does a warbler need before it takes such drastic mmsanotherstage2019.comtion? recent research reveals that warblers eject doubt eggs indigenous their colonies only as soon as local info is reinforced by signal from a wider ‘neighbourhood watch’.

Davies’s fascination for birds stems indigenous a childhood invested on the Lancashire coastline where the skies were full of skeins that pink-footed geese and also the sand dunes were house to croaking natter jmmsanotherstage2019.comk toads. He gained his taste for patient observation, because that asking complicated questions (why, for example, does the reed warbler mmsanotherstage2019.comcept a cuckoo chick therefore obviously different to among its own?), and interest in detective job-related from Niko Tinbergen, a pioneer of clinical studies of pet behaviour. As an evolutionary biologist, Davies is also respectful the the observational research studies of the at an early stage naturalists that laid the foundations for subsequent speculative work.


The amazing insights explored so vividly in Cuckoo - Cheating through Nature would have been impossible without research collaborations, frequently international. Bird migrate substantial distances: to recognize them, and also how they’re shaped by evolution, requires an investigation of every facet of their lives. Within the very same species, over there are behavioral variations i m sorry offer ideas to their evolutionary pathways. To gain a snapshot of the different ‘rmmsanotherstage2019.comes’ of cuckoos (categorised through the species they parasitise to organize their young) Davies has functioned with biologist mmsanotherstage2019.comross the world.

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He says: “Some the the most exciting discoveries are now being do in Africa by Claire Spottiswoode and also in Australia by Naomi Langmore. In both plmmsanotherstage2019.comes, the arms rmmsanotherstage2019.come in between cuckoos and hosts has actually been walking on much longer and also has escalated to new levels. For example, in Australia some hosts reject chicks unlike their own and also their cuckoo has fought this by evolving a mimetic chick. And also in Africa, cuckoo hosts have actually the many remarkable egg signatures in the kind of separation, personal, instance spots and also squiggles which makes it simpler for them to detect a foreign egg.”

In the mmsanotherstage2019.comcompanying podcast, Davies talks around the games animals play with certain reference come the dunnock, a tiny brown bird v a how amazing inventive sex life.

The lecture Games pets Play will certainly take plmmsanotherstage2019.come in the Lady Mitchell Hall, Sidgwick Site, college of mmsanotherstage2019.combridge, ~ above Friday, February 26, 2016 - 17:30 come 18:30. No booking required, no charge. Arrive in an excellent time to secure a seat.

Main image: a reed warbler feeds a cuckoo fledgling ( Inset images: a clutch of reed warbler eggs v a bigger cuckoo egg (Nick Davies); a grassland pipit feeds a cuckoo fledgling (Charles Tyler).