PJ the Cuckoo: his legacy lives on

PJ the Cuckoo: his legacy lives on

08 Jun 2022

Cuckoo 161318 portrait

A record-breaking Cuckoo, nicknamed ‘PJ’ has died in his summer territory in King's Forest, Suffolk, but data from his tag will continue to inform our research.

PJ was tagged in King’s Forest in June 2016, as part of BTO’s ongoing Cuckoo Tracking Project. Named in memory of Pamela Joy Miller, who passed on her passion for birds to her family, he soon became an icon. 

All the Cuckoos tagged by BTO researchers give us equally valuable data, regardless of their lifespan, but PJ captured the hearts and minds of the public with his longevity. As well as being the first tagged Cuckoo to use both the Spanish and Italian routes to the wintering grounds located in the Congo Basin, he completed at least six epic annual migrations to Africa and back. This is the greatest number of migratory journeys of any tagged Cuckoo, and he returned to the UK in April this year with over 60,000 miles under his wing. 

Celebrating PJ

Paul Stancliffe reflects on PJ's legacy, from advancing our understanding of Cuckoo migration to engaging the public across the world.

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Sadly, there has been no transmission from PJ’s tag since 6th May. Tag failures are rare in the UK, where they are not exposed to such harsh conditions as when the birds are on migration, so we must assume that PJ has reached the end of his life. He was at least seven years old when he arrived in King’s Forest this spring, only one year short of the longevity record for a wild UK Cuckoo.

Although PJ may be gone, his legacy - six years of location data - lives on, and his contribution to our understanding of Cuckoo migration will continue to inform BTO’s research. PJ built on the contributions of all the tagged Cuckoos before him, just as this year’s cohort will build on the knowledge we gained from PJ - a body of research which may help reverse this sad decline seen in many UK Cuckoo populations.

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