February 27 2015 Latest news:
Sunday, April 27, 2014
He may look like an ordinary bird, but Chris the cuckoo is at the centre of some major scientific breakthroughs and has returned to East Anglia after spending the winter in Africa.
For the bird was given a satellite tag while visiting Santon Downham by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in June 2011 and has since been providing scientists with new information about cuckoos’ wintering grounds, migration routes and speed of travel.
Since being tagged, Chris, who is named after TV wildlife presenter Chris Packham, has clocked up over 45,000 miles and his tag has sent around 30,000 messages back to researchers in the UK.
He is the only tagged Cuckoo that has provided data for three consecutive years, for example revealing that he travelled 5,000 miles in seven weeks.
The tag data also showed that Chris spends his winter months in the heart of the Congo Rainforest; information that is brand new to science.
This winter, conditions in the Congo weren’t ideal and he moved south into Angola, joining Skinner, another Cuckoo that was tagged in East Anglia in May 2013.
This is the first time that any of the tagged cuckoos from Britain have ever visited that country.
Chris’ route to Congo and back takes him across the North Sea to the Netherlands, into northern Italy, across the mediterranean into Libya, over the searing Sahara to the area close to Lake Chad and, from there, into the rainforest for the winter months.
However, he takes a very different route back to the UK, through West Africa, crossing over the western Sahara into north Africa, over the Mediterranean to the French Italian border, although this spring he has travelled up through Spain and into France.
He usually makes landfall somewhere near to the Sussex-Kent border before making his way back to Norfolk.
Dr Chris Hewson, the scientist leading the project at the BTO, said: “Over the last three years Chris has kept to a pretty tight timetable. In 2012 he came back on May 1, and in 2013 on May 6 but spring is early this year and he is now in northern France.”
Mr Packham said: “We live in an age where technology is allowing us to learn so much more and much more quickly and this is undeniably exciting.
“But we also live in an age where species like that cuckoo are in dangerous declines.
“The information that scientists at the BTO have received from Chris’s tag is vital in helping to understand what might be behind these declines. He is a very special cuckoo indeed.”
To follow Chris on the last few miles of his northward migration, and ten other Cuckoos as they make their way back home, visit www.bto.org/cuckoos.