To catch a cuckoo… or four (our Press Release)
Spring has returned to Dartmoor, and with it, one of the season’s most evocative sounds: the call of the cuckoo. Sadly, in most areas of the UK, the cuckoo population is in decline. To help find out more about this enigmatic bird in order to try and halt this decline, we, Devon Birds have teamed up with Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) to fund the satellite tagging of four Dartmoor cuckoos.
Despite the cuckoo being one of Devon’s most iconic birds, very little is actually known about it, and the reasons for its decline are unclear. So, before steps can start to be taken to conserve this enigmatic bird, more is needed to be learnt about its ecology.
In Devon, the cuckoo is now rare across much of the county, but the population on Dartmoor has remained stable.
To get a better picture of the movements of Dartmoor’s cuckoos on their incredible migration, small numbers of birds are being fitted with satellite tags so their journeys and behaviours can be followed closely.
The tagging is part of a national project, managed by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) that has been running since 2011. In mid May, the BTO’s specially licensed cuckoo-catcher came to Dartmoor to put satellite tags on four cuckoos that DNPA ecologists had identified with the assistance of local birders.
“Catching cuckoos involves some field craft!” explained Naomi Barker, Devon Birds’ member and Ecologist for Dartmoor National Park Authority.
“Once a cuckoo’s song-post has been identified, one needs to put up special cuckoo-catching nets around it; ideally this needs to be done first thing in the morning before the cuckoo wakes up. Within the netting area a decoy cuckoo is erected and then a cuckoo tape-lure is played to attract the target cuckoo into the net.”
The team managed to catch the four targeted cuckoos in two days. They were all healthy and large enough to have a tag fitted.
“This exciting project looks to address a worrying decline in a much-loved Devon bird,” said George Harris, Chairman of Devon Birds.
“But more than that, it is an international investigation at the forefront of modern ecology and one we are proud to be involved with. While efforts are being made to protect cuckoo habitat here on the moor, getting a better understanding of their worldwide life history is necessary if we are ever to answer this very big conservation question.”
Only male cuckoos are tagged, as female cuckoos are smaller and the tags may be too heavy for them. The males are all still on Dartmoor, but are expected to leave for Africa in June or July.
Each cuckoo was named so it could be identified individually as part of the project. It was felt that names with a Dartmoor connection were appropriate for this investigation hence the team came up with: Dart, Whortle, Tor and Ryder.
NB You can follow them on their travels through Britain, Europe and Africa . We shall be giving regular updates on this news section. Since being tagged you can see they have already been active over large areas of Dartmoor. Click on their names above to find out where they are and where they have been so far.