Cuckoo Tracking

So many of us take comfort from seeing the first snowdrops of the year, spotting Hawthorn and Blackthorn bushes in flower and hearing the dawn chorus of bird song growing as each day passes. Thanks to the amazing technological advancements of recent years, we can now even watch spring coming thousands of miles away by following the movements of tagged animals. Our partners at the BTO have been doing just this with Cuckoos.

Meet Cuthbert
Cuthbert was caught by the BTO’s Cuckoo Tracking Team at Wheatfen Broad in Norfolk, with the kind permission of the site’s owners, the Ted Ellis Trust. Phil Atkinson, one of the BTO’s scientific staff, led the catching operation, which involved setting special nets; these have a fine mesh that gently holds a bird that flies into it. The Cuckoos are attracted to the net through the use of a decoy (either a stuffed female Cuckoo or a 3D printed model) and the playback of Cuckoo calls.

Male Cuckoos like to sit on tall trees and sing the ‘Cuck-oo’ song that everyone is familiar with. To catch them you need to get them to come down low to the height of the net. The ideal site is a low isolated bush well away from any tall trees. We place two nets around the bush in a V-shape and play a recording of the female’s bubbling call and the male’s ‘Cuck-oo’ in the middle. Thinking a female and possibly a rival are in the area, the male will come to investigate, often dive-bombing in low within seconds of the recording tape being played.

Cuthbert was one of two male Cuckoos caught that morning at the site. The other bird, an immature male, was underweight and so was not tagged. At 119 g Cuthbert was in excellent condition for tagging, and so was fitted with the lightweight harness and satellite tag.

Setting mist nets to catch a Cuckoo

📷 Mike Toms

Setting the lure - a stuffed female Cuckoo

📷 Mike Toms

Attaching a satellite tag to a male Cuckoo

📷 Mike Toms

A Cuckoo carrying a satellite tag

📷 Neil Calbrade

Tracking Updates

First two are on their way...

Two of the Cuckoos launched earlier this month have already made it across to Europe:

Cores (CO) left Ireland, arriving in north-west France a week ago. He’s moving slowly south-eastwards into the Loire-Atlantique region & is currently just north of the medieval town of Châteaubriant. From here, he will likely head towards Italy and head down to Africa via an eastern route.

Torc (TO) left County Waterford coast, stopped over  briefly in Cornwall, then headed for France, passing between Guernsey and Alderney on the way. After a 200 mile flight, he was tracked to north-west Normandy

Not much activity yet!

Cuthbert has now been released, but is currently sticking close to home, with the other Cuckoos doing the same.


Meet Cuthbert!

Cuthbert is one of nine birds, from the Scottish Highlands, East Anglia and Worcestershire, joining the BTO Cuckoo Tracking Project this year


Tag number: 262937

Ring number:DE53595

Sex: Male

Age: 4
(Adult, hatched before the current calendar year, but exact age unknown)

Date and time of capture: 
24/05/2024 at 04:30 hrs

Location: Norfolk
Caught at Wheatfen Broad, Surlingham, Norfolk. Latitude: 52.6015. Longitude: 52.6015

Wing length: 226 mm

Weight: 119 g

Scientific Name: Cuculus Canorus

Distribution: Throughout Britain and Ireland

Breeding Cuckoos are found in a range of habitat types, although they reach highest densities in upload and marginal habitats. Dartmoor, Exmoor and the New Forest in England, together with Brecon Beacons in Wales, hold relatively high densities but abundance peaks in western and northern Scotland and in western Ireland.

UK Breeding:
BTO data show that UK Cuckoo population have been in decline since the early 1980s. The species was added to the UK Birds of Conservation Concern Red List in 2009. Data from BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey show a continuing strong decline in England, but not in Scotland, where a moderate increase has occurred.

Related Birds:
Cuckoos mostly lay their eggs in the nests of Meadow Pipit, Reed Warbler, Dunnock and Pied Wagtail.

More About The Project

The Cuckoo, this iconic harbinger of Spring, is in steep decline in England and so understanding more about their lives is very important.

By attaching birds with satellite tags, BTO scientists are able to follow the migrations of Cuckoos in almost real-time. Having wintered in tropical Africa, the tagged Cuckoos are starting their migrations north, some having already completed the first leg of their migration out to Guinea in West Africa. They will feed up here for a few weeks, in preparation for crossing the mighty Sahara Desert.

We hope you’ll be just as fascinated as we are by the amazing adventures of these incredible travellers. We are very happy to have a good number of Cuckoos here at Vine House Farm and have been enthusiastic supporters of this project since the beginning. You can follow the movements of all of the tagged Cuckoos as they migrate north on the BTO website by visiting

Other Birds at Vine House Farm

If you have an interest in birds and their migration patterns, you may also be interested in identifying the different birds in your garden. Our comprehensive bird library covers all the main bird species you’re likely to see.

Our knowledge combines our own expertise with carefully researched facts and figures, and we frequently reference the data for the latest updates.

Each bird fact file contains information regarding its identification, bird sound, nesting, breeding, history, population, and food. With videos and plenty of images, you will be able to identify your garden birds.

More about other birds