After 12 Months, And Almost 27,000km, The First Beijing Cuckoo Is Back!

On 20 May 2017 Gao Jingxin was visiting Yeyahu wetland in Beijing when she spotted a Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) sitting atop a bush.  It was the first time she had seen cuckoos this spring and, as an accomplished photographer, she quickly snapped some photos.  After studying the photos carefully, Jingxin realised there was something special about this particular cuckoo; an antenna was clearly visible protruding from the bird’s back.  Jingxin had been following the Beijing Cuckoo Project since the beginning and immediately thought the bird in her photos could be one of the Cuckoos fitted with a tag last spring.  She sent the photos to me via WeChat and asked the question.  When I opened the message I was elated and, I must admit, emotional.  Having received a signal from Meng’s tag on 20 May showing he had arrived back at Yeyahu, I simply replied “It’s Meng” !

Gao Jingxin’s photographs are a joy to see.  They show Meng (full name Meng Zhi Jian, 梦之鹃), seemingly in fantastic condition, back on the breeding grounds and claiming a territory.  Incredibly, he was photographed just a few hundred metres from the place where he was fitted with a tag on 25 May 2016.

梦之鹃 (Meng Zhi Juan), Yeyahu, 20 May 2017 (Photo by Gao Jingxin)
梦之鹃 (Meng Zhi Juan) seemingly in great condition after his marathon migration to Mozambique and back, Yeyahu, 20 May 2017 (Photo by Gao Jingxin)

The signals show that, since being fitted with his tag, Meng has crossed 16 borders involving 10 countries (China – Vietnam – Laos – Myanmar – Bangladesh – India – Somalia – Kenya – Tanzania Mozambique – Tanzania – Kenya – Somalia – India – Bangladesh – Myanmar – China).  All without a passport or visa.  And along the journey he’s passed through 13 Chinese Provinces and crossed the Arabian Sea twice.  In total, we calculate he has flown at least 26,990 kilometers in 12 months.  That’s equivalent to more than half way around the world.  Wow.

Meng has given us so much new data about the life cycle of cuckoos from East Asia, including information about migration routes, stopover sites, the relationship between the timing of migration and weather/climatic patterns, not to mention the location of, and habitat preferences at, the wintering grounds.  This is all vital information if we are to ensure the continued survival of the cuckoo and birds like them.  Over the next few weeks and months we’ll be analysing the data to ensure we make full use of the information he has provided.

Experience from Europe shows that cuckoos usually return to the same general area each year to breed so we had expected Meng to return to Beijing Municipality.  However, to see him so close to the area where we caught him last May is testament to the incredible navigational ability of these birds, especially since they never even know their parents, let alone learn from them.

Gao Jingxin’s photos are the perfect way to celebrate the first anniversary of the Beijing Cuckoo Project and they’ve rightly gone viral on Chinese social media.

The Project Team is deeply grateful to Gao Jingxin for allowing the use of her wonderful photos on the Birding Beijing website and for helping to complete the cycle of Beijing Cuckoo migration in style.  We’d also like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has supported the project over the last 12 months, including the partners – the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), especially Chris Hewson, and the Beijing Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BWRRC), especially Shi Yang, Aodan Zhula, Wang Bojun and Wu Mengwei, the sponsors – Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Oriental Bird Club (OBC), British Birds Charitable Foundation and BirdLife International.  Yeyahu Wetland Reserve, Cuihu Urban Wetland and Hanshiqiao Wetland for allowing us to tag birds at their reserves.  To Wu Lan, Dick Newell, Lyndon Kearsley, Gie Goris, Geert De Smet, Susanne Åkesson, Aron Hejdstrom, Mu Tong, Li Qingxin and Rob Jolliffe who have all played vital roles.  And a special thanks to all the members of the public who have either donated to the JustGiving site or followed and helped to spread the word on social media in China and overseas, and to the many schools and schoolchildren across China who have been so engaged in the project.

As we await the return of Flappy, currently in Hubei Province, all that remains is to say “Welcome Home, Meng” and to wish him a successful breeding season in Beijing.

The reaction to the Beijing Cuckoo Project on social media has been wonderful.  Below are some of the recent reactions to the journeys of the Beijing Cuckoos.  Keep them coming!  And follow @BirdingBeijing on Twitter for updates.

8 thoughts on “After 12 Months, And Almost 27,000km, The First Beijing Cuckoo Is Back!”

  1. Fantastic to see that Meng is back in town and congratulations to the Beijing Cuckoo Project, wonderful news !

  2. Absolutely brilliant news Terry, we were watching the Common Swifts around the Exhibition Centre Hotel before we left Beijing on 23rd marvelling at the fact that they had just returned from South Africa, this is an even more incredible feat brought to the worlds attention by the hard work of all those involved.

  3. Just astonishing! I thought the Arctic Terns in our Western Hemisphere flying from my home area in Nova Scotia across the Atlantic to Antarctic were the champs at 30,000 miles but these Cuckoos are giving them a run for their money. Welcome back Meng.

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