Betting on cuckoos

Chris the cuckoo, named after TV presenter Chris Packham, is lagging behind in The Great Cuckoo Race. Photo: Phil Atkinson (BTO).
Chris the cuckoo, named after TV presenter Chris Packham, is lagging behind in The Great Cuckoo Race. Photo: Phil Atkinson (BTO).
Bookmaker William Hill teamed up with TV presenter Chris Packham and the BTO to launch the first betting market on cuckoo migration from Africa to Britain.

Now one punter is a lucky winner, after the first cuckoo back to Britain was a 25/1 outsider called Hennah, who beat the fancied favourite Dudley to the line. Hennah swooped home at big odds after making the mammoth journey in a matter of days and pipping Dudley to the winning post.

“One punter is going cuckoo about the result after the favourite was beaten,” said Jon Ivan-Duke from William Hill. “But Dudley was clearly celebrating prematurely and swilling champagne in the South of France!” A record number of new accounts were also opened with bets placed on her in the last few hours. 

Hennah was last picked up on radar on 9 February, but just as hope was fading that she was even alive, a faint signal was picked up from the New Forest which steadily grew as the sunny weather charged her solar-powered tagging device.

William Hill's pioneering partnership with the British Trust for Ornithology was set up to raise awareness about the decline of the cuckoo, with populations in serious decline over the past century. The goal of the project is to help raise awareness about the plight of Common Cuckoo, a species in rapid decline. Since the British Trust For Ornithology (BTO) started tracking the species in 2011, 17 tagged cuckoos are still active but 33 have either perished or been lost.

The joint project is called The Great Cuckoo Race 2015, and followers have been glued to the live tracking system on www.bto.org/cuckoos with 17 birds each carrying a high-tech satellite-tracking device to monitor their progress. Now the race is building to a climax, with Dudley, a 20/1 outsider at the start of the journey, in a commanding lead.

Earlier tracker signals from a cuckoo called Dudley put him on the border between Spain and France, just south of Bordeaux, while all of his rivals were still in Africa. ‘Chris the Cuckoo’, who is named after Chris Packham, was really trailing behind at this stage. William Hill gave a free £500 charity bet to the TV presenter on the race, but his selection, ‘Chris The Cuckoo’, is still south of the Sahara desert and nowhere near the finish line – so William Hill instead will be doubling the amount and donating £1,000 to the BTO.

“Chris the Cuckoo would need to fly like a superhero to win the race now,” said Ivan-Duke.

Cuckoos fly from West Africa, crossing over the Congolese jungle, the Sahara Desert, the Mediterranean Sea, continental Europe and the English Channel before making it back to Britain.
Dudley is now the odds-on 1/5 favourite to be the first cuckoo home, and is currently just outside Saint-Geours-de-Maremne in the South of France. He appears to be resting after a long flight from Africa and hasn’t moved for four days while three other birds close in on him.
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