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?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable