Beijing Cuckoo Project Shifts Up A Gear

At the end of May, with the BTO’s Chris Hewson’s arrival in Beijing, we began The Beijing Cuckoo Project.  It’s an exciting initiative as it combines genuine scientific discovery with the participation of schools and the general public.

Dulwich naming2
Pupils at Dulwich International School voting for their favourite Beijing Cuckoo names.

After catching 16 cuckoos, 11 of which were too small to carry a tag according to the BTO’s admirably strict ethical rules, we fitted tags to five Beijing Cuckoos at three locations – Cuihu Urban Wetland Park, Hanshiqiao Wetland Park and Yeyahu National Wetland Reserve.  The five, three males and two females, were given names by local schools and birdwatching organisations.  As expected, the three males were most likely of the subspecies bakeri, the ssp that breeds in Beijing.  Interestingly, the two (larger) females appeared to be of the more northerly subspecies, canorus.  This will hopefully be confirmed by DNA analysis in due course.  We were excited to have potentially tagged two different subspecies as there is the possibility that the two races use different migration routes and wintering grounds.

Over the summer the project has gained wide exposure here in China and overseas with media articles, engagement with schools and events at the tagging locations to showcase the project.  The most recent was a short article by BBC Wildlife Magazine.

The super-exciting news is that, after the breeding season, the first cuckoo – Flappy – has begun her autumn migration.  Already she has crossed the Mongolian desert  from her breeding grounds on the Mongolia/Russia border and is now south of Beijing in Hebei Province.

Flappy as at 1 August 2016
Flappy’s position, as of 1 August 2016. She’s on her way to, as yet unknown, wintering quarters…

The other four are all doing well but remain at, or close to, their breeding grounds.  We are expecting them to begin their migration very soon.  There is a dedicated webpage on which updates are posted regularly and, for even more detail, there are individual sub-pages for each cuckoo.  The next few weeks promises to be a really exciting time – all being well, we will find out, for the first time, where east Asian Cuckoos go for the winter and how they get there..!

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