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Cuckoo numbers down by nearly 60%

07/04/2009 13:57:43

Cuckoo. Photo credit Derek Belsey/BTO.

Is it farewell for the Cuckoo?
April 2009. In the newly published book, ‘Say goodbye to the Cuckoo', Mike McCarthy laments the disappearance of the sound of summer from the British countryside.

The latest results from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) support this feeling. Since 1994 these show a decline of 37%, and an overall decline of 59% since 1980. It is thought that the Cuckoo is the victim of a double whammy, struggling to find enough food during the breeding season here in the UK and suffering a similar fate on its wintering grounds in Africa.

16 million migrant birds
‘Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo' highlights the enormity of the challenges that these birds face. It is estimated that 16 million migrant birds arrive here every spring, and this natural spectacle is eagerly awaited by many of us. The Cuckoo is just one of these species but being the harbinger of summer, it might just be the most significant. The distinctive ‘cuckoo' song is one of the best known of any bird, many people have never seen the bird but most of us know the song and relate this to the end of winter and the arrival of summer.

UK cuckoo decline

  • The Cuckoo is the only member of its family to breed in Britain and is showing a steady decline.
  • The estimated population in 2000 was 14,000 pairs.
  • In the period 1981-2006 the Cuckoo showed a decline of 61% in the UK as a whole and is amber listed as a bird of conservation concern.

First UK cuckoos of 2009
The first Cuckoos of 2009 have already been reported, with single birds being seen and heard in Ireland, on the Isles of Scilly and in Kent. Over the next few weeks BTO volunteers will be out monitoring the arrival of Cuckoos and other migrant birds as they complete their long journeys. All of this information will then be reported to the BTO and form part of the long-term datasets that the Trust keeps, helping scientists follow the ups and downs of these global travellers.

Andy Clements, Director, BTO, commented, "Migrant birds are important to us all and Mike manages to capture the essence of this in his wonderful book. We will all anticipate the arrival of the Cuckoo more keenly this year, and the inspiration Mike gives us helps re-energise the BTO's work to understand the declines of iconic birds like Cuckoos, Nightingales and Swifts."

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