The Mongolia Cuckoo Project

Welcome to the Mongolia Cuckoo Project!

From 4-8 June 2019, five cuckoos – one Oriental Cuckoo and four Common Cuckoos – were fitted with transmitters around Khurkh Bird Banding Center in northern Mongolia.  The birds have been named by local schools who will follow “their” birds to learn about the migration route and wintering grounds of these iconic birds.

You can follow them, too, by checking this page and by following @BirdingBeijing on Twitter.

The latest positions of the Mongolian Cuckoos. Zoom into the map using “+” and “-” to see more detail

The Mongolia Cuckoo Project is a joint initiative by the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center (WSCC) of Mongolia and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), facilitated by Birding Beijing and generously supported by the Oriental Bird Club and Mr Dick Newell.

The Project Team – including Chris Hewson (BTO), Lyndon Kearsley, Dick Newell and Terry Townshend – is grateful to WSCC for making the arrangements to visit Khurkh Bird Banding Center and for their invaluable support.  We are particularly indebted to Nyambayar Batbayar, Batmunkh Davaasuren and Tuvshinjargal Erdenechimeg.

Introducing the five Mongolian Cuckoos:

Cuckoo 1

Mongolian name: нүүдэлчин

English translation: Nomad

Species: Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus optatus)

Sex: male

Tag number: 161312

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Cuckoo 2

Mongolian name: Хурх

English translation: (Captain) Khurkhboldly going where no cuckoo has gone before…

Species: Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

Sex: male

Tag number: 170438

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Cuckoo 3

Mongolian name: намжаа (NAMJAA)

English translation: Namjaa is the name of a storyteller in Mongolian folklore

Species: Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

Sex: male

Tag number: 170436

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Cuckoo 4

Mongolian name: Баян (BAYAN)

English translation: Prosper

Species: Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

Sex: male

Tag number: 170437

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Cuckoo 5

Mongolian name: Онон

English translation: Onon (after the local river)

Species: Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

Sex: male

Tag number: 161314

Latest News:

Please consider donating via this JustGiving page towards the cost of the satellite fees, so far not covered by existing funding. Any gift, no matter how small, is welcome and 100% of any donation will go to BTO and used only towards the satellite fees for this project. Thank you.

3 December 2019

ONON has now joined BAYAN and NAMJAA in Kenya.. and less than 200km separates them. Remarkable.

ONON, BAYAN and NAMJAA are all in Kenya.

1 December 2019

NAMJAA is still going… he’s crossed the Equator and joined BAYAN in Kenya.. with the two separated by less than 200km.

Just 650km now separates all three Mongolian Cuckoos in NE Africa.

30 November 2019

NAMJAA is in Somalia! Signals from late on 29th show he has flown 4,000km in 4 days from Gujarat in India to c300km west of Mogadishu in Somalia. It seems that he didn’t stop on reaching the African coast.. but instead flew another 1,000km SW.. incredible.

NAMJAA’s route from Gujarat in India to Somalia. That’s c4,000km in 4 days.

28 November 2019

This is exciting! As of last night, NAMJAA was over the Arabian Sea and had almost reached the coast of Somalia! He certainly took his time to make the sea crossing but boy did he go for it! The most recent position was from late on 27th November; we are now waiting for confirmation that he has made it across! Winds look good and should assist him (see below).

NAMJAA has flown from Gujarat in India to Somalia.. a distance of just over 2,500km non-stop.
The winds should provide some assistance for NAMJAA as he nears the completion of his sea crossing.

26 November 2019

NAMJAA is edging west.. and is now c35km NNE of Surendranagar in Gujarat. When will he take the leap and cross the Arabian Sea? It’s now two months since ONON and BAYAN made their crossing…

Meanwhile, ONON is in southern Ethiopia and BAYAN remains the most southerly of the Mongolian Cuckoos in Kenya.

17 November 2019

NAMJAA has moved WSW into Gujarat. Is he finally going to make his crossing of the Arabian Sea to Africa? Winds look good…

NAMJAA is heading coastward… next stop Africa?

11 November 2019

BAYAN has crossed the Equator, making him the first (known) of the Mongolian Cuckoos to reach the southern hemisphere! The map below shows his latest move, still in Kenya.. with ONON a little further north in Ethiopia.

BAYAN is in the southern hemisphere! He’s in the Kitui area of Kenya, at around 1.5 degrees of latitude south.

31 October 2019

ONON and BAYAN (PROSPER) have settled in to Africa, with both moving south in the last few days. ONON is in southern Ethiopia and BAYAN (PROSPER) is in the Samburu region of Kenya, probably mixing with elephants and lions! NAMJAA remains in India and we are still awaiting further signals from Captain KHURKH or NOMAD

ONON and BAYAN (PROSPER) as at 31 October 2019.

16 October 2019

BAYAN (PROSPER) has continued SSW and has crossed the border into Uganda. His 12th border crossing involving 13 countries since being fitted with a tag in Mongolia in June.

BAYAN is now in NE Uganda, a new country for cuckoos tagged in East Asia!

15 October 2019

BAYAN (PROSPER) has made a big move SSW, flying more than 1,000km, briefly crossing into South Sudan (the first time a tracked cuckoo from East Asia has visited this country) before entering N Kenya. If he continues on this heading, he’ll be the first of our East Asian cuckoos to enter Uganda. ONON is still in northern Ethiopia, NAMJAA remains in India and we are still waiting for news from NOMAD, last heard from in Hubei Province, China on 4 October.

BAYAN (PROSPER) is in northern Kenya.

13 October 2019

After their mammoth crossings of two deserts and two oceans, ONON and BAYAN have been recuperating in Ethiopia for the last two weeks. BAYAN is beginning to show signs of restlessness and has edged SW around 100km. NAMJAA remains in India, poised to cross the Arabian Sea. No signal from NOMAD‘s tag since 4 October. We’re hoping we’ll pick up his signal if/when he starts moving south.

10 October 2019

It is now just over a month since we heard from Captain KHURKH‘s tag. In the days leading up to the last transmission on 8 September, the battery charge had been consistently low but the temperature data showed no abnormalities, suggesting he was healthy. The most likely explanation is that the tag’s battery is now so low that it cannot transmit a signal for the satellites to pick up. Although there is a chance his tag may kick into life if it receives a prolonged boost of sunlight, given the length of time without any transmission, we should expect not to hear from him again. Of course, it may just be that he’s been ‘beamed up’ by Scotty!

Captain KHURKH’s mission, to boldly go where no cuckoo has gone before, to explore strange new worlds, may have come to an end.
Captain KHURKH’s last known position was in SW China’s Yunnan Province.

7 October 2019

A quiet few days for the Mongolian Cuckoos. NAMJAA is on the outskirts of Udaipur in Rajasthan. ONON and BAYAN (PROSPER) are both recovering on Ethiopia after their epic desert and sea crossings. Still no further sign of Captain KHURKH and NOMAD remains in Hubei Province, China.

The positions of the Mongolian Cuckoos as at 7 October 2019
NAMJAA seems to like Udaipur in Rajasthan

2 October 2019

NAMJAA is skirting the Thar Desert, poised to make his crossing to Africa. He’s currently 25km W of Udaipur in Rajasthan. We’ve received no signal from Captain KHURKH since early September. The most recent transmission on 8 September showed apparently healthy temperature data but a low battery charge, so we remain hopeful the tag will start to transmit again if it has a chance to recharge. NOMAD, the Oriental Cuckoo, remains in Hubei Province, China.

NAMJAA is poised to be the third of the Mongolian Cuckoos to cross the Arabian Sea to Africa

29 September 2019

In the last 4 days, ONON and BAYAN have crossed two deserts and two seas. After their long flights from India to Saudi Arabia, they’ve flown another 600km SW, crossing the Red Sea and Eritrea to Ethiopia, following a remarkably similar path. NAMJAA remains in India with NOMAD still in Hubei Province in China, some 7,500km ENE of ONON and BAYAN.

27 September 2019

This is breathless..! ONON has continued right across the Rub’ Al Khali Desert and seems to have stopped in the far SW of Saudi Arabia, close to the border with Yemen. An incredible 2,860km from his previous position in Pakistan. BAYAN (PROSPER)‘s journey is even more remarkable. Having reached India on Tuesday after a flight of 900km from Yunnan to Bangladesh and then >1,500km from Bangladesh to India, he must gave been in great condition as he has flown a further 3,300km west from Madhya Pradesh. The most recent signal (0930am local time) puts him in Saudi Arabia, over the southwestern part of the Rub Al Khali Desert. That’s 5,400km in 6 days! Interestingly, one of the signals from BAYAN‘s tag when he was over the eastern part of the desert puts him just 15km from ONON‘s location 11 hours earlier!

The last 48 hours has been eventful, with two of the Common Cuckoos crossing the Arabian Sea and the Rub’ Al Khali Desert of Saudi Arabia.

26 September 2019

Oh wow… it seems that ONON‘s 800km flight to the Indus Delta in Pakistan was just his warm-up… he’s now flown another 2,000km WSW and is in Saudi Arabia! That’s a new country for the tagged East Asian cuckoos… Not only that, BAYAN (PROSPER) has also crossed the Arabian Sea and is in Oman…. Both taking advantage of favourable winds in the northern Arabian Sea. These ocean crossings are almost a month earlier than the Beijing Cuckoos in 2016… and three weeks earlier than Flappy in 2017. Fascinating stuff! Judging from the temperature data from the tags, they both appear to be still in active migration, so there could be more drama yet today…

ONON and BAYAN (PROSPER) have crossed the Arabian Sea.

25 September 2019

ONON has consolidated his lead in the race to Africa.. he’s flown c800km WSW to the Indus Delta in Pakistan. NAMJAA and BAYAN (PROSPER) remain in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh respectively.

All the action is in South Asia with ONON leading the pack.

24 September 2019

BAYAN (PROSPER) is motoring! He’s flown another 1,500km west and is in Madhya Pradesh, India. Three of the five Mongolian Cuckoos are now in India with ONON in Rajasthan and NAMJAA in Uttar Pradesh.

BAYAN (PROSPER) is challenging for the lead in the race to Africa!

22 September 2019

A big move from BAYAN (PROSPER). He’s flown nearly 900km WSW from his previous position in Yunnan Province, crossing Myanmar, and is now in Bangladesh a little south of Chittagong.

18 September 2019

NOMAD did indeed continue – he flew more than 430km overnight and is now in Hubei Province. From the temperature data, it looks as if he is taking a rest here.. Still anyone’s guess where he is heading!

17 September 2019

NOMAD is on the move again. He’s flown about 200km south and has crossed the border from Shanxi to Henan Province. From the temperature data, it looks as if he is still in active migration, so could move further today. His heading, almost due south, does not give much away in terms of the intended destination.. he’s keeping us guessing!

NOMAD is heading due south.. and is now in Henan Province.

Earlier this month we began a poll to see where readers think NOMAD, the first Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus optatus) to be tracked, would spend the northern winter. The poll closed on 10 September and here are the results:

Indonesia/Malaysia – 39%

Africa – 27%

Australia – 13%

India – 8 %

New Zealand – 5%

Other – 8%

Perhaps not surprisingly, SE Asia is the most popular suggestion. However, with one specimen from Zambia (per Handbook of the Birds of the World), and eBird records from Australia and New Zealand, there remains a large element of mystery about where NOMAD will go.

16 September 2019

ONON has edged west into Rajasthan, on a heading towards Jaipur.

ONON is in Rajasthan, about 130km SE of Jaipur.

15 September 2019

After a few days in northern Shaanxi Province, NOMAD has flown 300km south and is now in western Shanxi Province. Tantalisingly, there are still no firm clues as to where he is going..

Is NOMAD’s trajectory indicative of a SE Asia destination?

10 September 2019

After his unexpected turn NW into Sichuan, BAYAN (PROSPER) has flown c450km SW and is now in Yunnan Province, just 60km SW of Dali, on a more expected course.

BAYAN (PROSPER) is on a heading to the Myanmar border after his trip to the Gaoligong mountains. Just 200km separates him and Captain KHURKH
BAYAN (PROSPER) is a little over 50km from Dali in Yunnan Province.

9 September 2019

NOMAD is in Shaanxi Province. He’s flown another 300+km south from his previous position in Inner Mongolia and spent the afternoon/evening c80km SE or Ordos. Don’t forget, there is still time to have your say on where you think he is heading.. Remember, NOMAD is the first ever Oriental Cuckoo to be tracked. Will he go to Africa, following the Common Cuckoos and from where there is a specimen? Or will he go to SE Asia or even Australia as some people think? Or somewhere else? You can vote for where you think he is going here.

NOMAD has completed a major milestone of his autumn migration by crossing the Gobi Desert.

8 September 2019

After a few days close to Ulaanbaatar, it looks as if NOMAD has started to cross the Gobi. Sometime around 7pm local time on 7th September he started to move and the temperature of his tag was lower than normal, indicating that he is in active migration. Crossing deserts and oceans are some of the most perilous parts of bird migrations, so we have everything crossed he will be ok. We’re expecting to pick up further signals later today or tomorrow. Watch this space! In the meantime, there are still two days to vote for where you think NOMAD, the first Oriental Cuckoo to be tracked, is heading… SE Asia? Africa? Australia? Vote here!

NOMAD is heading out across the desert towards China.

UPDATE: NOMAD flew c800km overnight across the Gobi and is now in Inner Mongolia, China. It looks as if he still has around 75km to go to find optimal habitat but he’s broken the back of the desert crossing..

NOMAD’s position as at 1600 local time on 8 September.

7 September 2019

NAMJAA has flown c1200km west from northern Bangladesh and is now in northern Madhya Pradesh in India, about 50km south of the town of Chhatarpur. The habitat looks to be a small range of hills c400m asl.

NAMJAA is in India!

Hot on the heels of NAMJAA, ONON is now also in Madhya Pradesh in India! He’s flown c450 km from the India/Nepal border and is around 18km SSE of the town of Gwalior.

ONON and NAMJAA are both in Madhya Pradesh with just 230km separating them.

6 September2019

Captain KHURKH has flown 800km SW from his previous position in Guizhou to Yunnan Province, heading for the border with Myanmar. Looking at the data from his tag, he was flying well below warp speed.

Captain KHURKH is on a heading to Myanmar.

5 September 2019

A big move by ONON. Since the last transmission from his tag in Guizhou Province on the evening of 31 August local time, he has flown a whopping 2,400km and is now in Nepal, close to the border with India!

The straight line distance between the previous transmission on 31 August and the latest transmission on the morning of 5 September is c2,400km and the shortest trajectory goes through Myanmar and Bhutan before entering Nepal.

At the same time, NAMJAA is hot on his heels. He’s flown c1,500 km west and is now in northern Bangladesh, close to the border with Meghalaya, India.

NAMJAA is hot on the heels of ONON with both making big moves in the first few days of September.

4 September 2019

BAYAN/PROSPER has taken a turn WNW and headed into Sichuan Province, at the same time climbing to an elevation of >2,300m. It’ll be interesting to see whether he takes a short-cut over the mountains or turns south and takes a longer route around the highest mountains, as we saw with the Beijing Cuckoos.

BAYAN/PROSPER has crossed NE Yunnan and is now in southern Sichuan.

3 September 2019

NOMAD continues, flying 350km SSE, crossing the border into Mongolia. He is now just 80km north or Ulaanbaatar. Where is he heading?

NOMAD, the Oriental Cuckoo, is now moving in earnest, having flown another 350km SSE, crossing the border into Mongolia.

2 September 2019

Captain KHURKH has joined his crew in Guizhou. BAYAN/PROSPER has made a 200km flight in the slightly surprising direction of WNW. Generally, the cuckoos we have tracked so far avoid the high mountains, so we expect him to track south soon to head for the lowlands of Yunnan rather than the high peaks.

Remarkably, all four Common Cuckoos are now in Guizhou Province.
Remarkably, all four Common Cuckoos are now in Guizhou Province, taking a very similar strategy. NOMAD, the Oriental Cuckoo, is taking a different strategy and remains 2,500km to the north near Lake Baikal.

1 September 2019

NOMAD is still going… he’s flown another 600km SE and is now at the southern end of Lake Baikal. Will he take a similar trajectory to the Common Cuckoos? As the first Oriental Cuckoo to be fitted with a tag, his migration route and wintering grounds are unknown.

NOMAD as at 1 September 2019

At the same time, we have a signal from NAMJAA‘s tag showing he is now in Guizhou, joining ONON and BAYAN/PROSPER.

Three of the four Mongolian Common Cuckoos are in Guizhou Province.

30 August 2019

After a relatively quiet 10 days, NOMAD, the Oriental Cuckoo, is on the move again, and it looks as if he’s moving with a bit more purpose than on 19 August. He’s flown c300km south and is now around 500km NW of Lake Baikal. Even after this latest move, he is still around 2,500km behind the Common Cuckoos!

NOMAD has flown c300km south and is about 500km NW of Lake Baikal.

We’ve also just picked up BAYAN/PROSPER’s signal again, after a few days of radio silence, and he has moved around 800km SSW and is now in Guizhou Province overtaking ONON.

BAYAN/PROSPER becomes the most southerly of the five Mongolian Cuckoos after his move SSW to Guizhou Province.

19 August 2019

Over the weekend, NOMAD, the Oriental Cuckoo, took a small excursion, flying at least 150km SSE into Irkutsk before circling round and heading back to where he started! Movements like this, although not straightforward to explain, are not uncommon in cuckoos, as we saw with the Beijing birds.

NOMAD has returned to his previous position just NW of Irkutsk after flying at least 150km SSE.

16 August 2019

ONON continues to set the pace. He’s flown 300km SW and has crossed the provincial border into Guizhou. Captain KHURKH and BAYAN are not far behind. Of the remaining two cuckoos, NAMJAA is still in Shandong and NOMAD, the Oriental Cuckoo, remains in Russia, some 3,500km to the north!

ONON has consolidated his lead and is now in Guizhou Province, ahead of Captain KHURKH and BAYAN.

14 August 2019

The race is on! All four Common Cuckoos are now in China and heading south. ONON is the latest to move and is now in Hunan Province, making him the most southerly of the four. Captain KHURKH is in Hubei Province, BAYAN is in Shaanxi and NAMJAA is in Shandong. NOMAD, the Oriental Cuckoo, has now spent a month northwest of Lake Baikal in Russia. Being the first Oriental Cuckoo to be tracked means that we have no idea what to expect. The temperature of his tag looks normal, so we are not unduly worried, although it will be reassuring to see him move south soon.

All four Common Cuckoos are now well on their way south with ONON the most southerly after his recent move from Shanxi.

11 August 2019

BAYAN (Prosper) is the last of the five to begin his autumn migration. He’s flown 600km south across the Gobi and is now only 50km north of the border with China.

BAYAN is the last of the five cuckoos to begin to move south.

9 August 2019

Captain KHURKH is now the most southerly of the five Mongolian Cuckoos. He’s flown another 400km SSE and is in the Qinling Mountains of northwest Hubei Province, just 150km north of the Yangtze River.

Captain KHURKH is now the most southerly of the Mongolian Cuckoos. More than 3,000km separates him and NOMAD, the most northerly bird.

8 August 2019

Captain KHURKH has flown c800km south, crossing the Chinese border and is now in Shaanxi Province.

7 August 2019

This map shows the positions of all five Mongolian Cuckoos. There is around 2,800km separating NOMAD, the Oriental Cuckoo, in Russia and NAMJAA, the most southerly Common Cuckoo, now in Shandong Province, China.

After being tagged within a few kilometres of each other, there is now 2,800km separating the five Mongolian Cuckoos!

5 August 2019

Captain KHURKH is heading south! He’s flown around 500km and is now in southern Mongolia, close to the border with China.

Captain Khurkh. Boldly going..

2 August 2019

ONON has continued to move south and is now in western Shanxi Province, around 500km WSW of Beijing. The other cuckoos remain in their positions from 1 August.

ONON is in Shanxi Province but NAMJAA remains the most southerly of the Mongolian Cuckoos.

1 August 2019

ONON has made a move and flown south to the border of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia (China). He is on a similar trajectory to NAMJAA who has continued south and is now in Shandong Province. Latest positions below.

ONON and NAMJAA are on their way!

29 July 2019

NAMJAA is motoring.. he’s flown more than 700km SE and is now in China’s Hebei Province, just 200km north of Beijing.

NAMJAA is well on his way and is the first of the Common Cuckoos to leave Mongolia.

28 July 2019

Autumn is here! On 11/12 July, after only four weeks on his breeding territory in central Siberia, NOMAD (an Oriental Cuckoo) made a move of around 150km SSE, closely followed by another move of similar distance. He is now c300km SSE of his summer position. We believe NOMAD is the first ORIENTAL CUCKOO to be fitted with a tag, so his migration route and wintering grounds are of huge interest. Where will he spend the winter? SE Asia? India? Africa? Or maybe even Australia?

NOMAD’s position as at 28 July 2019. He’s made a move of c300km SSE from his breeding grounds in central Siberia.

Meanwhile, two of the COMMON CUCKOOS have also moved from their tagging locations. On 25 July, Captain KHURKH (boldly going where no cuckoo has gone before?) headed 170km west towards Ulaanbaatar. And NAMJAA is heading due south, surely the start of his autumn migration.

Captain KHURKH has moved west towards Ulaanbaatar – is this the start of his autumn migration or a reaction to local conditions?
NAMJAA is heading due south, the start of his autumn migration?

3 July 2019

All of the Mongolian Cuckoos seem to be stable on their breeding grounds. NOMAD, the Oriental Cuckoo, remains in central Siberia and (Captain) Khurkh, Prosper, Onon and Namjaa are all in the vicinity of Khurkh ringing station, where they were caught and tagged. It’s in stark contrast to the UK cuckoos, most of which are already on their way back to Africa.

22 June 2019

NOMAD, the Oriental Cuckoo, seems to have settled down, presumably now on his breeding grounds in central Siberia, whilst the four Common Cuckoos, including (Captain) Khurkh, remain in the vicinity of Khurkh ringing station.

17 June 2019

The ORIENTAL CUCKOO continues to move northwest. He’s now 1,625km NNW of Khurkh and still going!

16 June 2019

The ORIENTAL CUCKOO is still on the move! Since being tagged in Khurkh, he has flown 1375 km NNW and is now in Krasnoyarsk on the southern edge of the Central Siberian Plateau!

10 June 2019

Whilst the four COMMON CUCKOOS remain in the general area of Khurkh Bird Banding Center, the ORIENTAL CUCKOO has already moved on and is now c250km to the NW on a heading towards Lake Baikal in Russia.

8 June 2019

Mission Accomplished!  After a remarkable three days in the field, already the fifth cuckoo has been fitted with a transmitter!  After the male ORIENTAL CUCKOO on day one, the next four to be fitted with a transmitter were all male COMMON CUCKOOS.  Here is a video of Tuvshi, manager of the Khurkh Bird Banding Center, releasing the fifth cuckoo.

7 June 2019

The Mongolia Project Team visits the local school in Khurkh to speak to students about the cuckoo tracking project and to ask them to nominate two names for the first two cuckoos.

The students chose “нүүдэлчин” (NOMAD) and “Онон(ONON) after the local river that runs through the town.

6 June 2019

The Mongolia Cuckoo Project Team catches and fits a transmitter to the first cuckoo, and it’s an ORIENTAL CUCKOO!  We believe this is the first time a transmitter has been fitted to this species, so it’ll be fascinating to see where it spends the summer and to discover the wintering grounds and migration route of this poorly known species.

The BTO’s Chris Hewson with the ORIENTAL CUCKOO after being fitted with a transmitter.

5 June 2019

The Mongolia Cuckoo Project Team arrives in Khurkh after an eight-hour drive from Ulan Bator.