Where do cuckoos go in winter?

Ornithologist Mike Toms answers your wild question.

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A cuckoo perching on a silver birch tree in Derbyshire, UK

A cuckoo perching on a silver birch tree in Derbyshire, UK © Mark Hamblin / Getty

 

We’ve known for a long time that British cuckoos fly south to Africa for winter, but their exact routes long remained a mystery, as did their precise wintering quarters (save one record of a young bird in Cameroon 82 years ago).

However, research over the past five years by the BTO has discovered much more about the habitats these birds use during winter. By attaching miniature satellite tags to a number of indviduals, scientists have been able to track their migrations closely, following their journeys south across Europe and into Gabon, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The accuracy of the tags has revealed the very habitats frequented by the cuckoos – namely gallery and swamp forests – meaning that our birds are wintering alongside western lowland gorillas.

The research is vital, given the severe decline of the species over the past 20 years. 

 

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