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Famous Five Get Eleven New Friends

More Cuckoos satellite tagged

The ‘famous five’ Cuckoos, satellite tagged by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and avidly followed to Africa and back, have been joined by eleven new birds to help shed further light on this enigmatic species.

In the spring of 2011, five cuckoos were fitted with satellite tags to help scientists at the BTO answer questions about the life of the Cuckoo once it leaves the UK for the winter months. Clement, Chris, Lyster, Martin and Kasper helped uncover for the first time a completely new migration route through Spain, new and important stopover sites, and their final winter destination. All five birds were caught and tagged in East Anglia. Sadly, having survived the winter months in the Congo Rainforest, only two are known to have made it all the way back to Norfolk to breed this summer.

Cuckoos in England have been faring particularly badly, declining by 51%. In Scotland and Wales the picture is a very different one. The decline in Scotland has been much slower, only 9% of the breeding cuckoos have been lost here, whilst in Wales 27% have been lost. To help find out why cuckoos are doing better here than in England, scientists have fitted five male cuckoos in Scotland and four in Wales with tagsDr Chris Hewson, lead scientist on the project at the BTO explains, “We need to know whether cuckoos in Wales and Scotland face different pressures to those in England. It might be that they migrate on a different route, or at a different time. They might use the same route but spend the winter months in a different area. It might be that their return to the UK in the spring is different in some way. Right now we just don’t know but we do have the potential to find answers to these questions from these new birds.”

He added, “We have also tagged two more birds in East Anglia, as this will allow us to gather more data from this population that will be directly comparable with those from the tagged birds from Scotland and Wales, as well as giving us a better idea of the pressures birds breeding in this area are under.”

Chris, one of the cuckoos tagged in 2011, has already left the UK on the first leg of his very long journey back to sub-Saharan Africa. Having spent just under six weeks in the UK, he is now in Belgium. All four of the Welsh birds have now also made a move into Europe. Two of the Scottish birds are still close to the area they were tagged, but Cuckoo 115600 (tag number), is now in the North York Moors and the Cuckoo named BB is now in Holland.

Some of the cuckoos still need names. You can follow these birds on the BTO website as they undertake the hazardous journey to sub-Saharan Africa just visit http://www.bto.org and get more information about naming them.

4th July 2014