International Cuckoo tracking projects

BTO scientists are at the forefront of using new technologies to track birds and have gained great experience during the last decade, deploying devices on a number of bird species, including Cuckoos. The BTO is sharing this expertise and building capacity with partners across the globe. These projects are now closed and the collected data is being analysed.

Mongolia Cuckoo Project

Mongolian Cuckoo Team leave Ulaanbaatar for Khurkh Ringing Station. Photo credit: Terry Townsend.

In early June 2019, BTO teamed up with Wildlife Science and Conservation Centre of Mongolia (WSCC), Oriental Bird Club and Birding Beijing to tag cuckoos at Khurkh Bird Ringing Station in north-eastern Mongolia.

This was a follow-up to the Beijing Cuckoo Project, which had uncovered the migrations of East Asian Common Cuckoos for the first time.

As with the BTO’s own and previous international cuckoo tracking projects, the project aimed to combine science and public engagement. The team attached satellite tags to four Common Cuckoos, all apparently of the nominate race canorus, which remained around the tagging location for the remainder of the breeding season.

A fifth cuckoo was also tagged – an Oriental Cuckoo, which is believed to be the first of that species to be tracked. It subsequently continued its northward migration for ten days to a breeding territory 1,600 km to the north in the Krasnoyarsk region of Central Siberia.

It remained there for just four weeks before beginning its southward migration. The wintering grounds of this species are poorly known, due to identification problems and the secretive behaviour of cuckoos outside the breeding season, but they are believed to include South-east Asia and Australasia.

The field team visited two schools close to the tagging site, in the villages of Binder and Khurkh. The children named three of the birds, including calling the Oriental Cuckoo ‘Nomad’ appropriately enough but even before its onward migration was known.

The Mongolia Cuckoo Project was supported by donations from the Oriental Bird Club. You can follow the migrations of these birds on the map here, which is updated daily, or on BTO, OBC or Wild Beijing website or social media.

  • Please note: this project was funded by members of the public. The project is now closed and the collected data is being analysed.

Previous International Cuckoo tagging projects

Beijing Cuckoo Project

Example routes of Cuckoos from China.

In spring 2016 BTO worked with Birding Beijing to catch and fit satellite tags to Cuckoos in China. The team tagged five cuckoos in the Beijing area in May 2016. Three were males of the local race bakeri, but two were females of the nominate race canorus (the same as UK birds) which subsequently migrated north to Mongolia and Russia.

One of these females – named ‘Flappy McFlapperson’ by local school children – gained a cult social media following as she blazed the trail and revealed the spectacular migrations of these birds across Asia, over the Indian Ocean and into south-east Africa for the first time. This is one of the longest migrations documented for any land bird.

  • The Beijing Cuckoo Project is now closed and was supported by the Zoological Society of London, Oriental Bird Club and British Birds charitable foundation. The collecetd data is in the process of being analysed.

Cuckoos in Germany and Belarus

Example routes of Cuckoos from the UK, Germany and Belarus.

In 2013 and 2014, BTO was part of an exciting European collaboration with the Landesbund für Vogelschutz (LBV) and BirdLife Belarus (APB) to understand more about the continent-wide movements of the Cuckoo. BTO scientists helped to catch and tag Cuckoos in Bavaria and Belarus and trained local scientists to fit the tags.

The project showed that whilst Bavarian cuckoos followed a similar clockwise loop migration path as south-east migrating UK cuckoos, there was a divide within Belarus cuckoos, with some doing the same but some also following a ‘there-and-back’ path to south-east Africa.

  • Financial support came from the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and The Sound Approach. The project is now closed and the collected data being analysed.

Support the Cuckoo Tracking Project

“I have been following the progress of all the cuckoos, and more specifically AJ whom I  sponsored, for many weeks now and I wanted to let you know how much pleasure it has given me. What a feat for such plucky little birds! They are incredible. I will continue to track them all.”

Sponsor a Cuckoo

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