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BTO fears its Cuckoo Chris may be missing in action

A cuckoo wearing a BTO satellite tag ANL-150826-122916001
A cuckoo wearing a BTO satellite tag ANL-150826-122916001

Chris the veteran satellite tagged cuckoo has been reported missing in action.

One of the first cuckoos tagged by Thetford’s British Trust for Ornithology, at Santon Downham in June 2011, his sat-tag has transmitted well past it’s use-by date so the bird, named after BTO president and Springwatch presenter Chris Packham, has told ornithologists a great deal.

BFP Thetford edition front page ANL-150828-102929001
BFP Thetford edition front page ANL-150828-102929001

But after tracking him for 50,000 miles, they fear Chris may be an ex-cuckoo.

Chris Packham said the other Chris has revolutionised the way we understand migration.

He added: “If he has fallen in action then ‘In some corner of a foreign desert that is for ever Cuckoo. There shall be in that gold sand a richer dust concealed’. But let’s hope not!”

A tough UK spring saw the cuckoos start their migration in imperfect condition.

The BTO’s Paul Stancliffe said: “His favourite stop over is in northern Italy where he prepares for the long hop from there across the Sahara, but there has been a drought there so there are fewer caterpillars.

“He usually stays two or three weeks but left after a couple of days.”

Chris has been known to do the 1,615 mile sea and desert hop in one two-day trip, but this year he and two others have stopped in the Tibesti Mountains in Chad, in the middle of the desert, where there are oases in the valleys.

But Paul explained the tag signals are so weak they cannot tell if he is moving.

“With good quality signals we can say ‘he’s in that bush’ but with poor signals the error could be 20km,” he said. “Is Chris the cuckoo dead? It’s looking like he might be, but we’re not sure, he could be in a steep sided valley or under cover and may pop up and continue his story.”

But Paul added, grimly: “The oldest cuckoo we know was seven and he’s six.”

But he has done a good job. Paul said: “The longer he was transmitting, the more he has given us.”

Until this project we did not even know where they went, but now their routes and adaptability is known.

For example, in spring 2014 Chris was blown off his usual easterly course through Italy and France to Spain, yet he flew direct from there to the UK.

Paul said: “That bird knew exactly where he was on the planet and where he needed to go. We’ve not had that from any other bird.”

He added that the information to do that is passed on through the egg.

All the cuckoo tracking is mapped at www.bto.org


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