He's back! First tracked Cuckoo of the 2023 makes landfall in the UK

28 Apr 2023 | No. 2023-08

The first Cuckoo from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Cuckoo Tracking Project to arrive back in the UK reached his breeding grounds in Wales over the weekend, researchers revealed today.

The bird, named JAC, arrived near the Welsh town of Llangollen, marking the end of an extraordinary 12,000 km round trip between the UK and the rainforests of central Africa, where JAC and the other BTO Cuckoos spent the winter. 

JAC is one of more than 100 Cuckoos to have been fitted with a lightweight satellite tag by BTO scientists investigating the behaviour of these remarkable birds. The project, now in its 12th year, has revealed the different routes the species takes on migration and a range of factors that may be responsible for its decline in the UK. We’ve lost more than a third of our Cuckoos since the mid-1990s, putting this once ubiquitous bird and its mesmerising song at risk of disappearing from the UK altogether. 

After spending the winter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, JAC began his long journey back to the UK on 22 February. First he flew almost 2,000 km north-west to Nigeria and then another 1,400 km west to Guinea, where he spent a month feeding up in preparation for the arduous Sahara crossing ahead. JAC’s non-stop flight over the world’s largest desert came at the end of March, after which he arrived in his next staging area, the mountains of southern Spain. 

JAC was tagged in June 2021 close to where he is right now (Cuckoos return to the same area each year to breed). He is named in loving memory of Professor Jenny Clack, a palaeontologist widely acknowledged as the leading authority on the evolution of land vertebrates from fish. The name was chosen by Jenny’s husband Rob, who said: ‘It seemed appropriate I should contribute to this important scientific study of Cuckoos in memory of a top-class scientist, whom I adored.’ 

You can follow all the BTO Cuckoos and learn more about the project at www.bto.org/cuckoos

Dr Chris Hewson, BTO Cuckoo Tracking Project lead, says: ‘It’s great to see JAC back at his breeding site, blazing the trail for the other tagged cuckoos following in his wake. Forthcoming results from this project examine what determines when the Cuckoos arrive back to the UK, and highlights some of the stresses that these birds are under trying to keep pace with climate change and the need to arrive back in time for ever-earlier springs. Every migration we track adds to our growing knowledge of these birds’ lives and helps us to understand how we can best help them to adapt to our rapidly changing world.’

Dr Ieuan Evans, BTO Director of Engagement, says: ‘The return of the first BTO Cuckoo each year is always cause for celebration. But, like many long-distance migrants, this species is in steep decline in the UK. We urgently need to learn more about the challenges Cuckoos face here and elsewhere in their range. Through this project we have revealed the wintering grounds of UK Cuckoos and the routes they take to get there and back. Our scientific research has shown that a Cuckoo’s chances of survival are strongly impacted by the route it takes between the UK and Africa. With improved information we stand a much better chance of conserving this magical species.’

Contact Details

Tom Stewart (BTO Media Manager)
Mobile: 07585 440910
Email: press [at] bto.org (subject: News%20release%20enquiry)

Mike Toms (Head of Communications)
Mobile 07850 500791
Email: press [at] bto.org (subject: News%20release%20enquiry)

Images are available for use alongside this News Release. These can be downloaded from this link for which you will need to enter the password JAC'sBack. Alternatively, please contact press [at] bto.org quoting reference 2023-08.

Notes for editors

BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Belfast (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.  www.bto.org

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