Flappy makes a flying start

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Close up of one of the tagged bird. Photo courtesy Beijing Cuckoo Project

An exciting new project is currently underway to find the wintering grounds of East Asia’s Common Cuckoos.

Through the Beijing Cuckoo Project, satellite transmitters have been placed on five Common Cuckoos in order to track their international movements.

The birds were all trapped in the Beijing area where local schoolchildren have chosen names for them and encouraged to follow their movements online as they move first to their breeding grounds then in the autumn to their as yet unknown wintering grounds.

The Oriental Bird Club has sponsored a transmitter on one of the cuckoos, which the pupils at Dulwich International School, Beijing, chose to name Flappy McFlapperson.

The project follows a hugely successful study on Common Cuckoos breeding in the United Kingdom that for several years has tracked the birds’ movements between Europe and their wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.

That project attracted huge interest, both from the scientific community and from those with an interest in the natural environment.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project similarly aims to engage Chinese audiences about the wonders of bird migration with a view to promoting conservation, and help to strengthen the links between Chinese and international bird conservation organisations.

The main scientific goal will be to discover the presently unknown migration route and winter quarters for Common Cuckoos breeding in East Asia.

Speculation is rife about whether the birds will head for: Southeast Asia or, like their European cousins, sub-Saharan Africa.

Flappy, which is probably of the race canorus (blood analysis should confirm), has already provided some interesting insights into Common Cuckoo migration in the region. Following her fitting with a transmitter at Cuihu Urban Wetland Park, she first headed east then  NNW and is currently on the border of Mongolia and Russia. The route taken suggests she flew in an arc around the Mongolian Plateau.

Remarkably a second female cuckoo, tagged 161315, followed almost precisely the same route and at one point the two were within 50 km of one another in the Hentiyn Mountains. However, female 161315  carried on even further north and is now around 200 km east of Lake Baikal.

By contrast the three tagged male cuckoos, probably of the race bakeri, have all remained in the Beijing area.

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Map plotting the routes taken by the five cuckoos. The two red lines are the two females: the shorter one is Flappy’s. Map courtesy Beijing Cuckoo Project

You can keep up-to-date with all the latest developments through the Beijing Cuckoo Project pages on the Birding Beijing website, which includes further migration maps.

The Beijing Cuckoo Project is a collaboration between the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BWRRC), China Birdwatching Society (CBS), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Birding Beijing.

Alongside OBC, other supporters of the project are the Zoological Society of London and the British Birds Charitable Foundation.