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Bowie En Route

Bowie joins the Cuckoo class of 2018

As part of its hugely successful Cuckoo project the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has just launched 10 new birds, bringing the number of Cuckoos that are currently being tracked to 14; one of which has been named Bowie by wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham.

Bowie the Cuckoo, named after one of Chris’s favourite musicians David Bowie, was tagged on Tuesday 22 May, 2018 in Bolderwood, New Forest, Hampshire. On 12 June his tag transmitted outside of the UK for the first time and showed that he had left the New Forest and was in France, just to the south of Orleans; Bowie’s migration journey had commenced. He is currently north of Montlucon in central France and around 600km from his tagging site.

The project was launched in 2011 to help identify what might be driving the decline of this species in the UK, we have lost almost three-quarters of our breeding Cuckoos since 1990. This project has revealed the life histories of individual Cuckoos to scientists and the public alike, for the first time, uncovering the migration routes taken and possible causes behind the decline.

Since the beginning of the project, 80 cuckoos have been fitted with state of the art satellite tags and have revealed where British Cuckoos travel to for the winter months, and the journey that these birds take to get to their final destination. It’s now known that the winter months are spent in the Congo rainforest, arriving in September and leaving via West Africa in February. Heading south the birds use one of two different routes; either through Spain or Italy, yet all winter in the same part of Central Africa - a migration pattern that was new to science when uncovered by this project. At the moment it is uncertain which route Bowie will take; but the route chosen may well determine his chances of survival.

The survival rates for the two routes are very different with those migrating via Spain surviving less well. To date all of the Cuckoos that have gone through Spain have come from England, where Cuckoos are declining at a rapid rate. All of the Cuckoos tagged in Wales and Scotland have taken the Italian route; in Scotland numbers are increasing, whilst in Wales numbers are mostly stable.

Dr Chris Hewson, lead scientist on the project at BTO, said, “The route a Cuckoo takes on migration seems to play a big part in its chances of survival, and that this could have a big impact on the Cuckoo population in different parts of the UK. One of the things we need to understand is what determines the chosen route. Do they come from genetically different populations, for instance? Only time will tell. Right now I have everything crossed for this year’s birds, and looking forward to seeing which route they use over the next couple of weeks.

Anyone can follow Bowie’s adventures and see which route he takes to the Congo Rainforest, on the BTO WEBSITE

You can support Bowie and the rest of the Cuckoos by visiting THIS LINK and choosing to sponsor a Cuckoo, buying a gift pack or making a donation.

Dr Chris Hewson

10th July 2018