Brave cuckoo returns home to China after long-distance adventure

Photo from Bejing Youth Daily

A cuckoo named Flappy, who holds the record of flying 6,500 kilometers in 6 days, is now predicted to be in the sky above Myanmar, before arriving in China to complete his annual roundtrip from China to Africa.

Flappy’s movements have been tracked since May 2016 as part of the Beijing Cuckoo Project, in which he and four other cuckoos were tagged with sensors to show their route from northern China.

The project was launched by Beijing Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Center, the British Trust for Ornithology and Bird Watch China, with the aim of learning the migration pattern of cuckoos.

During the 2016-2017 migration, the sensors indicated that Flappy along with only one companion returned to Beijing. Not long after they arrived in China, the tracking signal on the other bird stopped responding.

Flappy flies to spend winter in Africa, and then flies back in the spring. Watchers say the main reason for his willingness to travel such a great distance is food, caterpillars in particular.

Beijing has an affluent supply of caterpillars in summer, but in autumn and winter the food supplies are scarce, so the birds have to travel southward until they arrive in Africa where lots of the larvae can be found even during winter, said the project co-founder Terry Townshend.

Now Flappy is flying nonstop towards Beijing as the temperature there rises. He can fly up to 80 miles per hour, which is determined by wind speed and direction.

Townshend disclosed that the bird was above Myanmar on May 14, while 19 hours before that, he had been tracked above northern India. His speed had propelled him across the 60th and 61th country borders since he had last been watched.

Surprisingly, throughout this journey that covers two continents, the bird barely rests. When above the sea, he could fly two or three days nonstop, eating no food, Townshend said.

The bird’s long-distance trip has caught the attention of Chinese internet users and triggered discussions on how the bird can fly across the ocean without rest, and that he has had to deal with a cold snap this year. Flappy has earned the title of the bravest adventurer.

Some net users hope to see more traveling cuckoos. As for that, Townshend said no more cuckoos are planned to be tracked this year, but he hopes next year in other regions of China more cuckoos can be involved in the project.

He believes there are other birds that can fly further than Flappy.

Shi Yang, a member of the project, said the data collected so far will be conducive to further research on the birds.

For Townshend, Flappy’s story has promoted how these brave birds travel half way round the globe to visit us, and what we can do to help protect their habitats.