Two globe-trotting Cuckoos return to the Broads

No.:  2014-30
May 2014

Having spent the winter 3,000 miles away in the Congo Rainforest, two special Cuckoos have made it safely back to the Norfolk Broads.

Skinner by Phil Atkinson/BTO

Both birds were satellite tagged in the spring of 2013 by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) as part of a wider project across the UK, to help scientists understand why almost two-thirds of the Cuckoo population has been lost during the last twenty-five years.

Both have names, and Skinner (named after local radio personality and farmer, Chris Skinner) was the first Cuckoo to arrive back in the UK this spring, and headed straight for Whitlingham Broad, on the edge of Norwich, the site where he spent the summer of 2013, and where his tag was fitted.  Derek (named by freelance gardening writer, Kate Bradbury) arrived almost three weeks later, and again went straight to his tagging site at Ruston Fen, where he has been chasing female Cuckoos ever since.  Both birds have now given scientists at the BTO complete migration tracks to Africa and back.

The migrations routes for both birds were remarkably similar, migrating south last summer through Spain and West Africa before heading on to their winter locations, for Derek, in the middle of the Congo Rainforest. However, Skinner amazed scientists by moving further south, and in doing so becoming the first ever British Cuckoo to be recorded in Angola.

Paul Stancliffe, of the BTO, said, “That we can follow these birds as they move around their home range is amazing, but to be able to follow them as they leave the country on their 3,000 mile odyssey is incredible. All the time that these birds are wearing satellite tags they are giving scientists vital information that will help inform the future conservation of the Cuckoo in this country.”

He added, “What’s more anyone can follow them by visiting the BTO website www.bto.org/cuckoos. In 2013 Skinner left the Broads on 2 July, with Derek following him 15 days later.”

With the project now in its fourth year, scientists at the BTO hope to learn more about what influences the success and failure for different birds. This spring they have been working with Broads Authority Senior Ecologist Andrea Kelly and Paul Noakes an expert volunteer who have been out tagging more Cuckoos. During the next week, or so, it is hoped that more birds will join Derek and Skinner in providing vital information to secure a future for this iconic bird. Watch this space!

In all, five Cuckoos were tagged and named in East Anglia in 2013 but only Skinner and Derek made it back, the other three perishing on migration. Two were lost as they made their way south, Nelson (sponsored by The Broads Authority, who will be sponsoring one of the newly tagged birds this spring) only made it as far as southern France, whilst Nick (named after Professor Nick Davies, renowned Cuckoo expert) crossed the Sahara Desert before being lost in Cameroon.  The last to be lost was Ken, who disappeared in the Ivory Coast whilst on his way back.

Andrea Kelly Senior Ecologist from the Broads Authority said "the whole of the Broads Authority has been watching the website for updates on our Broads birds. We were disappointed that Nelson, Nick and Ken didn’t make it back to the Broads. Migratory birds face many challenges, not at least the loss of the Congo basin rainforest and increasing people pressure all along their journey. Despite their declines, Cuckoos are still heard all over the Broads at this time of year. We are grateful to the scientists and volunteers in the BTO that are linking the Broads to other wild places across the world and hope that they too can also be part of a global network of protected sites."

For information on how to sponsor a Cuckoo, please visit www.bto.org

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. Whilst the Cuckoo has been well studied during the breeding season here in the UK, once they headed off on migration very little was known about the routes taken or where in Africa they spent the winter months. There has only been one recovery of a young bird that was found in mid-winter in Cameroon in 1932 - 82 years ago. One of the aims of the project is to pinpoint areas of importance and look at whether there are pressures there which could explain the losses of the British Cuckoo.

    The recent development of lightweight satellite tags, each tag weighs less than 5g, has allowed scientists, for the first time, to track this species in an effort to learn more about the routes and stop-over sites used. The project began in May 2011. For more information, and to follow their movements, please visit www.bto.org/cuckoos
     
  3. The Broads Authority is responsible for conservation, recreation, navigation and planning in the Broads, which is part of the National Park family. It is an internationally important wetland and Britain’s third largest inland waterway. Over 125 miles of  lock free rivers and over 60 shallow lakes form a mosaic of waterways, fens, grazing marshes, reedbeds and wet woodlands which are a haven for over a quarter of the UK’s rarest species. www.broads-authority.gov.uk; www.enjoythebroads.com

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