PJ the Cuckoo has returned to his forest home in Suffolk and has become a record breaker whilst doing so. This special cuckoo is part of a project that is being carried out by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to help uncover what might be driving the UK Cuckoo population down; we have lost over two-thirds of our breeding Cuckoos in the UK as a whole and almost three-quarters of them in England during the last 23 years.
PJ was fitted with a satellite tag in June 2016 in King’s Forest, Suffolk, and has been providing scientists at the BTO with valuable information ever since. His arrival back in the forest sees him complete his fifth annual migration cycle to, from and within Africa since he was tagged, amassing a distance travelled of well over 50,000 miles and making him the only satellite tagged Cuckoo to have achieved this since the project began in 2011. During this time he has crossed the Sahara desert ten times alone, not counting all of his sea crossings and navigating the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and the Pyrenees on the Spanish/French border. PJ was one year old when tagged, so this summer he will be six years old, taking him to within a year of the British longevity record for a ringed cuckoo, which stands at six years and eleven months for a bird found dead in 1983.
Common Cuckoo, copyright Stephen Daly, from the surfbirds galleries
Dr Chris Hewson, Lead Scientist on the project at the BTO, said, “We have been avidly watching PJ since he began his journey back to the UK in late February, willing him to complete the journey back to the UK this spring. We can now heave a huge sigh of relief knowing he is safely back in Suffolk but of course, more than that I look forward to looking more closely at the information he has given us.”
“He is an amazing and unusual Cuckoo – they normally migrate to Africa via either Spain or Italy and keep to the same route every year but PJ has used both routes, and one in between, over the five years and in fact last autumn he stopped in both Spain and Italy! Perhaps this flexibility has helped him survive so well, allowing him to escape bad conditions on one route and find better conditions on the other?”
Once a Cuckoo has been fitted with a satellite tag and released it starts providing information straight away, allowing scientists to determine how well the birds fare no matter where they go. Anyone can follow them via the BTO website in near real time. This spring the BTO will be tagging 12 more Cuckoos and you can follow them at www.bto.org/cuckoos