Our intrepid cyclists, now in Zambia, have learnt a lot about the fascinating parasitic cuckoo finch

21 Apr

Cuckoo finches, which are  parasitic birds, can lay different coloured eggs to match their different host species. The above photograph of a cockbird was taken by Neville Brickell, a RFCG founder member

Below we see Alex Antrobus left and Murray Beaumont right , who are cycling from South Africa to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Today they sent us this fascinating e mail.

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Dear Eelco,

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from us! But don’t worry, we’ve still very much got the RFCG in mind!
Well we’re in Ndola, Copperbelt region of northern Zambia currently. 3700-odd km down and things are going great! The trip has been fantastic! Tough at times, uncomfortable, beautiful, incredibly lucky and all ’round a wonderful experience.
I thought what you may find interesting is something we came across on the Bruce-Miller farm near Choma, Southern Zambia. There we met Marge, a PhD student of Dr Claire Spottiswoode from the Cambridge University Evolutionary Biology research group. Claire and her group are currently studying Cuckoo Finches, in particular looking at how, within this Zambian population at least, they seem to be “separating” into two host-specific groups. Some parasitise Cisiticola spp. whereas others parasitise Prinia species. In order to do so, their hens must produce significantly differently coloured eggs! So a female who hatched in a Cisticola nest must parasitise a Cisticola, as she will (in theory) produce eggs the same colour as those of her mother. So they are investigating what happens when finches don’t know what nest they came from – hand reared birds still know how to instinctively parasitise, but do they know which nests to do so, or do they learn from their success/failures? It’s interesting stuff and I imagine I haven’t even covered the half of what they’re actually trying to work out! But there were students studying warblers too (migration) and some other things. All rather interesting! Even in the sticks, Africa is a-buzz with finch research.
We’ve been doing repairs to our bikes and re-stocks in Ndola, heading out tomorrow morning early – Amanzi Awethu! must push on! Uganda, here we come!
Hope you are well and stay in touch!
Alex
Editors comment: The Rare Finch Conservation Group is in possession of some of the fascinating scientific papers prepared by Dr. Claire Spottiswoode and her team. Neville Brickell , who is a founder member of the RFCG kindly supplied her with the above photograph of the bird as well as data on breeding the species in SA aviculture . If any of our followers would like to receive this information then please e mail the RFCG secretary at editor@avitalk.co.za

If you wish to find out more about Alex and Murray’s exciting route through Africa and their adventurous journey simply log onto www.amanziawethu.org. You will be able to follow the two of them on facebook, where you will see a number of interesting visuals as well as twitter, where you will pick up their daily hiccups and challenges ( The marvels of modern-day communication !!! ).

The Rare Finch Conservation Group has no full-time staff members and every member of the group volunteers their skills and services in the interests of advancing finch conservation work. The RFCG is registered in South Africa as a non-profit organisation . It is totally dependent on donations and sponsorships for its future survival . The RFCG is currently raising funds ( US$ 25,000 is needed ) to finance its planned Phase 3 field research work in Uganda.  For more information on this pioneering conservation group please contact editor@avitalk.co.za

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