After 8,000 miles, Martin the cuckoo is almost home

 

A A A

It's nearly here, the best-loved sound of spring, the double note of the cuckoo: in fact, it's in southern Spain, on the last leg of a 4,000-mile journey from Central Africa.

Click HERE to view 'Return flights' graphic

Doing the cuckooing is Martin, one of the five British cuckoos ringed in Norfolk last summer by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and fitted with lightweight satellite transmitters to record their migration to and from their African wintering grounds.

After a tremendous nine-month odyssey involving a double crossing of the Sahara desert, Martin is the first bird to make it back to Europe, and in the last few days has crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa and is currently near the town of Lorca in the Spanish province of Murcia – or to put it in Easter Holiday terms, not far from the welcoming climes of the Costa Blanca.

Depending on the weather, and the absence of accidents, he will probably be back cuckooing in the countryside near Great Yarmouth, where he was caught on 19 May last year, some time in the next 10 days. With various diversions, he will have travelled more than 8,500 miles.

Following behind him on their Britain-bound paths are cuckoos Chris, Lyster and Kasper, but sadly not the fifth bird, Clement, which died at the end February of unknown causes in Cameroon – probably taken by a predator or perhaps by human hunters – having started his return journey like the others from the mid-winter resting place of all the birds in the dense forests of the Congo.

Chris has just crossed the Sahara and is thought to be in Algeria getting ready to sail out over the Med, while Lyster and Kasper are in Ghana and the Ivory Coast respectively, fattening themselves up for the exhausting 1200-mile desert crossing ahead of them.

Just what a feat of physical endurance this is for a bird was illustrated by the satellite telemetry of Martin's Sahara transition last Sunday. In one period – in the scorching heat of the day, with no shade on the bare sand below in which to rest and refuel – he flew more than 250 miles in four hours – meaning he was averaging more than 60mph. "He must have had a strong tailwind," said Dr Chris Hewson, one of the BTO scientists in charge of the project.

"I don't think a cuckoo could fly continuously at that speed for four hours by itself, but the birds may well be able to judge the best altitude to get a following wind to help them."

He added: "We are thrilled he has made it back to Europe and we are looking forward to welcoming all the birds back to Britain."

The difficulties, dangers and challenges of these journeys – the graphic, left, gives a vivid idea of their extraordinary scale –are the reasons behind the BTO experiment, designed to see if they may be contributing to the steep decline of the cuckoo in Britain, which dropped in numbers by 65 per cent between 1984 and 2009.

The birds may be vanishing because of problems here on their British breeding grounds, such as the disappearance of the moth caterpillars on which they largely feed. But it is just as possible that they are running into difficulties on their migrations, about which – until the current experiment – virtually nothing was known.

Now, a raft of information wholly new to science has become available about their routes, timings and stopover places, which scientists hope will aid cuckoo conservation in the future.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head