Cuckoo class of 2016 Backpack carrying birds helping to help save their own kind

29 Jun 2016 | No. 2016-23

Eight English Cuckoos have just been fitted with high-tech tracking devices by researchers at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). The devices, which record the birds’ locations as they migrate to and from Africa, will help to secure the future of this once familiar bird.

Cuckoos from Sherwood Forest, the New Forest, Thetford Forest and Dartmoor have been fitted with satellite tags to help researchers understand the challenges these birds face as they make their incredible journeys.

The eight new birds join the four surviving individuals tagged in previous years, and BTO scientists will be watching all 12 closely as they move through Europe and Africa during the next couple of months.

Seven have already left the UK; four have moved to France, one is in northern Spain whilst others are in north-west Hungary and northern Italy. Some of the birds will stopover in southern Spain, to feed and fatten up before attempting the crossing of the Sahara Desert, whilst others will do the same in northern Italy and the Balkans, allowing researchers to compare the success of the western versus the eastern migration route with that of previous years. Each bird will make the desert crossing in one 2,000 mile non-stop flight.

What BTO scientists are very keen to learn is how the birds interact with a weather system called the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) as they prepare to make their way back to Britain next spring. The drought-busting rains that this system brings to West Africa in early March may be vital to the success of onward migration from countries such as Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Dr Phil Atkinson, scientist on the project at the BTO said, “Five years into the project we know a lot about the migration routes our Cuckoos take to and from Africa but now we need to focus our attention on how the weather conditions along these routes might be affecting the timing of the migration. With the use of these amazing little backpacks we can watch these Cuckoos in near real-time as they move around the planet; what’s more, anyone else can watch them too as the positions automatically appear on the Cuckoo map on the BTO website. It is a very exciting time.”

He added, “The journey south and then back again is fraught with danger so we will be keeping everything crossed for these amazing birds.”

Anyone can follow and sponsor these 12 Cuckoos as they head south at

Notes for Editors

  1. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.
  2. About the Cuckoo Project. It's well known that we have lost over half of our breeding cuckoos during the last twenty-five years. Populations of many UK breeding migrant species are declining, however, there is little known about the mechanisms of these declines. Find out more here

Contact Details

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050 (9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release. Please contact images [at] quoting reference June 2016-23

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews. Please contact us to book an interview. Office:01842 750050

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