Famous Cuckoo makes it back to the UK against all the odds

01 Apr 2014 | No. 2014-27

In May 2011 the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) fitted a satellite tag to a Cuckoo in an attempt to help find answers behind the dramatic decline of this iconic species here in the UK. Little did they know that they would still be following this bird three years later.

Named after wildlife TV presenter, Chris Packham, Chris the Cuckoo is a remarkable bird. Having left Sierra Leone, just south of the Sahara desert, on 11 April this year, by the evening of Friday 25 April he was back at the spot that he spent most of last summer and close to where the tag was originally fitted on the Norfolk/Suffolk border.

During the three years he has successfully crossed the Sahara desert six times and clocked up an amazing 47,000km on his migratory flights to and from the Congo Rainforest. He has helped identify the Po valley in northern Italy as an important site for resting, and more importantly, for feeding up and preparing for the southward crossing of the desert, easily the most demanding and dangerous part on his migration. He also helped scientists find out where British Cuckoos spend the winter and that they head back to the UK in the spring through West Africa.

Even more amazing is that he is still transmitting information to scientists at the BTO. The average lifespan of a Cuckoo is around four years – Chris is at least four years old as he was an adult when he was tagged in 2011. It was originally thought that Chris’ satellite tag would last for two to three years. Both Chris and his tag have exceeded all expectations; and both are still going!

Infographics available from
press [at] bto.org

On Saturday morning he was moving around the area close to Cavenham Heath, Suffolk, presumably in search of any female Cuckoos – we’ve learnt from previous years tracking that he will be in this area for the next six weeks or so before he starts his journey back to Congo.

Dr Phil Atkinson, lead scientist on the project said, “It is fantastic that Chris has given us so much information over the last three years. However, it isn’t over yet. The technology used to track our Cuckoos is cutting edge, and whilst we think that Chris’s tag might stop transmitting in the coming year, we really don’t know as this is the first time these tags have been used and they might last longer than we currently think.”

He added, “I really hope that is the case and we get to follow this very special bird for a while longer yet.”

Anyone can follow the BTO Cuckoos as they make their way back to their breeding sites here in the UK at www.bto.org/cuckoos or for more information on Chris please visit http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/celebrating-chris

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. www.bto.org
  2. Infographics available from press [at] bto.org
  3. Chris the Cuckoo
  • Tagged on 1 June 2011 at Santon Downham on the Norfolk/Suffolk Border.
  • Between 1986 and 2011 the Cuckoo population in Britain declined by 72%. To help understand what might be driving this decline the British Trust for Ornithology have tagged thirty-one Cuckoos since 2011.
  • The Satellite tag costs £2,500 plus £60 per month for satellite time. Each tag weighs just under 5g.
  • Chris has flown 47,000km, more than once around the Earth since his tagging date.

Contact Details

Dr Phil Atkinson
(BTO Senior Ecologist)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: phil.atkinson [at] bto.org

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

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

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2014-27

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

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