Flight of the cuckoo
Whilst the call of the cuckoo remains one of the most well-known sounds of our spring, the population of cuckoos has seen a dramatic crash in England, with a 70% decline over the last 20 years.
Flight of the cuckoo
Heard or seen a cuckoo?
Devon Birds in collaboration with Dartmoor National Park Authority and the University of Exeter have created a live web map and online recording form to help collect information on cuckoos here on Dartmoor and across Devon.
This allows anyone to enter their cuckoo sightings (or more likely hearings) and see the results on this map. Whilst these records will not give us an accurate picture of cuckoo numbers on Dartmoor (2005 figures for Dartmoor were estimated at 100 males) it does indicate some of the key areas used by the birds.
There has been a fantastic response and we would like to thank everyone who has submitted records. Since the start of the project in 2014, more than 2800 observations have been submitted. In 2016, 762 cuckoo sightings were reported in Devon, with over 87% of these records from Dartmoor. The first record was 2 April 2016 and the last on 23 July 2016.
Dartmoor, as southern England's biggest upland, holds nationally important populations of cuckoo and the population is thought to be stable within the national park. This is because Dartmoor is a large area of extensively farmed uplands, where cattle, ponies and sheep graze the moor and create an open habitat with tussocks of heather, gorse and grass.
As such, Dartmoor is an excellent place in which to study moorland birds, and to understand how land management and climate change are affecting their populations. In particular, a lot of work has been taking place on Holne Moor: a team of dedicated birders, in collaboration with Exeter University, has set out to find and monitor moorland nests from egg-laying to fledging so that successes and failures could be quantified and linked to weather patterns and habitat conditions.
Cuckoos do not tend their own nests, but lay an egg into the nest of another bird species. On Dartmoor, this is almost always the unsuspecting meadow pipit. The first thing the cuckoo chick does when it hatches is to evict all the other eggs, so that it gains all the attention from its foster parents. The cuckoo grows to an enormous size compared to the meadow pipits, who have to work very hard to keep up with the cuckoo's constant demand for food.
Visit the BTO website (external website, opens new browser window) to to find out more about the national cuckoo tracking project.
Go to www.devonbirds.org (external link, opens new browser window) and click on Cuckoos to learn more about cuckoos and what to do to help them.
Good places to enjoy Dartmoor's uplands accompanied by the song of the cuckoo are the Tavy Valley, Burrator, Meldon, or Holne Moor.
Most moorland birds build their nests well-hidden on the ground, so please take great care to stay on marked tracks and keep your dogs under control. See our leaflet Birds of the open moor for more information.