PJ the cuckoo has returned to his forest house in Suffolk and has become a record breaker in the process. This particular cuckoo is part of a project being carried out by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to find out what may be driving the UK cuckoo population down. We have lost more than two thirds of our breeding cuckoos in the UK and nearly three quarters of them in England in the past 23 years.
PJ was given a satellite tag in King’s Forest, Suffolk, in June 2016 and has been providing BTO scientists with valuable information ever since. Upon arrival in the forest, it will complete its fifth annual cycle of migration to, from, and within Africa since it was tagged. He has covered a distance of well over 50,000 miles, making him the only cuckoo with a satellite tag to have achieved this since the start of the project.In that time, he has crossed the Sahara alone ten times without counting all of his crossings and the Atlas Mountains to drive in Morocco and the Pyrenees on the Spanish-French border. PJ was one year old when he was tagged. This summer he will be six years old and within one year he will break the UK longevity record for a ringed cuckoo, which is 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 BTO project, said: “We have been watching PJ eagerly since he started his trip to the UK in late February and got him ready to complete the trip to the UK this spring. We can now breathe a sigh of relief when we know that he is safe in Suffolk again, but of course I am also looking forward to taking a closer look at the information he has given us. “
“He’s an amazing and unusual cuckoo – they usually migrate to either Spain or Italy to Africa and keep on the same route every year, but PJ has used both routes and one in between for the past five years and indeed he did last fall stopped in Spain and Italy! Perhaps this flexibility has helped him survive so well that he can escape bad conditions on one route and find better conditions on the other? “
Once a cuckoo has been tagged with a satellite and approved, it immediately provides information so scientists can determine how well the birds are doing, no matter where they go. Anyone can follow them in near real time through the BTO website. This spring, the BTO will mark 12 more cuckoos and you can follow them at www.bto.org/cuckoos