One of the great evolutionary puzzles is why hosts of parasitic birds discriminate finely against alien eggs, but almost never discriminate against parasitic chicks. A theoretical model has shown that an adaptive host response to alien eggs can be based on learning. However, learned nestling discrimination is too costly to be favoured by selection in hosts of evicting parasites, such as the European cuckoo (Cuculus canorus). Indeed, parasitic chick rejection has never been reported for any European cuckoo host species. As learned nestling discrimination is maladaptive, one can expect that a viable alternative for hosts would be to use discrimination mechanisms not involving learning and/or recognition. We suggest that hosts may starve and desert cuckoo chicks that require higher amounts of food than an average host brood at fledging (i.e. feeding rates to a parasite are outside the normal range of host behaviour in unparasitized nests). Our observations of the reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) at parasitized nests indicate that such behaviour could possibly work in this host species.