In a bid to tackle the worrying decline in Cuckoo numbers, 15 satellite-tagged individuals are to take to the air during the next week, and begin transmitting information of their incredible journeys to researchers at the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology).
Announcing the arrival of spring, the song of the Cuckoo was once commonly heard across the country, but during the last 15 years the public have noted its growing absence. BTO surveys confirm that Cuckoos numbers have fallen by 50% in that time. In 2011, in a bid to help uncover what might be driving this decline, the BTO began a project to track Cuckoos on their migration to and from Africa. This work should prove pivotal in understanding the pressures that these birds face, both during migration and on their African wintering grounds.
The Cuckoos are fitted with satellite tags, enabling the public to follow their migration in near real time by visiting the BTO Cuckoo pages. These birds have provided information new to science from the very start: some birds stay in Britain for only just over a month; they winter in the Congo rainforest; and they use different routes to get there. The initial findings pose further questions and, as we move into the fourth year of the project, there is even more to learn about what influences the successes and failures of different birds. This spring BTO is fitting a further 15 satellite tags to Cuckoos across England.
These birds — all males, as they are larger than females and better suited for carrying these particular tags — are being tagged in East Anglia, Sherwood Forest, Dartmoor, The New Forest and Ashdown Forest. Each tag costs £2,500, with an additional £60 needed per month, per bird, for the satellite time. The BTO is looking for Cuckoo sponsors to support the project: anyone can help by sponsoring one or more birds, for as little as £10; the opportunity to name a Cuckoo for the cost of £3,000 is also on offer.
Cuckoo, Bulgaria (Photo: Dave Williams)
Andy Clements, Director of BTO, commented: "Our satellite-tagged Cuckoos are the pioneering heroes of bird migration research. Their journeys provide rich information and pose questions for future research, on their routes, their stop-over sites and the habitats they occupy in Africa. It is the generosity of our public supporters that enables us to fund this ground-breaking research that ultimately informs how to conserve our precious birds."
To follow the Cuckoos, or to support the project and help us to continue to gather important information about migration and its challenges, please visit www.bto.org/cuckoos.