Dartmoor’s cuckoos – a big enigma

Spring isn’t complete for me until I have heard my first cuckoo. That day for me was the 25th April when I visited Wheal Betsy. Hooray! The other ‘banker’ location for me is at Okehampton Army Camp during the 10 Tors event – this year ‘he’ didn’t sing but I did see him twice – I guess he didn’t like the weather either. Here’s David Attenborough talking about cuckoos on Radio 4’s Tweet of the Day. See also Tweet of the Day – the book.

??????????A cuckoo (this year in Northamptonshire taken by my friend Steve Brayshaw)

Cuckoos however are doing very poorly nationally – they have undergone major declines, in England a 70% decline, according to the British Trust for Ornithology. As a result a lot of research is being undertaken to try and determine and therefore reverse the losses. The reasons for the declines are rather perplexing – maybe to do with habitat degradation, perhaps problems on migration, alternatively, something is happening in their African wintering grounds or maybe the challenges of a changing climate.

As a result Devon Birds have set up a project to record cuckoos in the county this year and the Dartmoor National Park Authority have funded the BTO to radio track some Dartmoor cuckoos to try and work out where they go and how they fare.

The situation is perplexing because although cuckoos have declined by 70% in England they appear to be doing better (but not well)  on Dartmoor – cuckoos are also flourishing in north west Scotland. The situation is further complicated as Dartmoor’s and south English  cuckoos migrate to Africa via Spain whilst the Scottish birds go via Italy. No easy migration route answers.

Devon Birds have a live interactive map which shows in Devon that cuckoos are practically absent this year from all of  the county except for Dartmoor – even Exmoor is virtually cuckoo free. No easy habitat quality answers.

Research at the University of Exeter is about to commence on the topic and lets hope it sheds some light on the fate of the cuckoo. For now though Dartmoor is the place in southern England to see and hear cuckoos – make the most of it while you can as before long they will all be heading back to Africa!


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