The Cuckoo project was set up by the BTO in order to investigate the reasons behind the steep decline in the UK Cuckoo population. Over the 25 years between 1988 and 2013 a massive 71% of the UK’s Cuckoo population has disappeared and little is known about why. While the Cuckoo has been relatively well studied in its summer habitat of the United Kingdom not much was known prior to this project about the Cuckoos wintering grounds in Africa.
By tracking these birds the BTO hopes to uncover the secrets of the Cuckoo’s fall in numbers and find out where exactly they go and what happens to them along the way. The project has already uncovered an abundance of new information about Cuckoos; we now know that they winter in the Congo and spend much less time than previously thought in the UK, as little as six weeks. They have also been found to take very varied routes with some flying straight across the Sahara and others travelling much further westward around the desert.
“It is vital that we find out more information on this iconic species and the plight of its population.” says BTO’s Joe Dawson. “It’s so important that we support this project and find out why this bird has been suffering so badly in recent years.” He added. “Anyone can follow these birds as they make their way to Africa.”
To follow these birds and support the project, please visit www.bto.org/cuckoos. The Cuckoos can be sponsored for as little as £2 a month, with the sponsors receiving regular email updates about the activities of their chosen bird, or birds. For the cost of a satellite tag and a year's satellite time, £3,000, anyone can name Cuckoo 161321. Any donation, no matter how small, will support our Cuckoos and hopefully lend a hand in their return to the UK. At the time of writing Jack is currently in France, south-east of Paris, while Cuckoo 161321 has already successfully crossed the Sahara desert and is close to Bamako, the capital of Mali. To follow the BTO Cuckoos, please visit www.bto.org/cuckoos
Notes for Editors
- More information about the Cuckoo project – Since 2011 the BTO have been satellite-tracking Cuckoos to find out why. We’ve learned lots of vital information which could help us to understand our Cuckoos - about the routes they have taken, and some of the pressures they face whilst on migration. Climate change is causing the timings of the spring season to change and there is evidence that many migrant species are not advancing their arrival times sufficiently to track the earlier spring. There is also some suggestion from previous studies that there are constraints in the migration timing of species wintering in or beyond the humid zone in Africa.
We also know from the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey that Cuckoos are doing better in some areas of the country than in others, with the decline in England (63%) being greater than in Scotland and Wales, but why are they are declining at the rate they are?
We need to understand all aspects of the Cuckoo’s annual cycle before we can begin to suggest what might be driving the decline.
The technology - The recent development of new 5g tags meant that we were able to track this species. In an effort to learn more about the routes and stop-over sites used, the BOT’s first five British Cuckoos were fitted with satellite-tags in May 2011. The tags are solar-powered, transmitting for 10 hours and then going into 'sleep' mode for 48 hours, to allow the solar panel to recharge the battery.
So far all of the cuckoos that the BTO have tagged, except for one female - Idemili, have been full grown males. This is because they are generally larger than females and juveniles and so are able to carry the tags more easily. Once smaller tags are available, the BTO hope that we will be able to tag females and juveniles. We look forward to learning how their migrations differ from the males we have tracked so far.
Why the project must continue – the BTO have learned a lot about the routes taken by our satellite-tagged Cuckoos, and some of the pressures they face whilst on migration, but we now need to look more closely at how dependent they are on, and how much their migration is linked, to the drought-busting rains of the weather frontal system known as the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) as they move out of the Congo rainforest and begin to head back to the UK via West Africa.
With the UK population of the Cuckoo rapidly declining and failing to advance its arrival back here each spring, the prime focus will be on the apparent dependence of the Cuckoo, and the resources associated with this frontal system (ITCZ) in tropical Africa.
- 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
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