China has ex­ported 11 satel­lites to nine coun­tries.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By XIN­HUA

Chi­nese po­ets have of­ten used the cuckoo’s ar­rival as a sym­bol of home­com­ing, but fewknewwhere the bird came from.

Now, modern tech­nol­ogy has pro­vided the an­swer. Satel­lite track­ing has shown that thecom­mon­cuckoo can travel up to 12,000 kilo­me­ters be­tween its winter grounds, as far away as East Africa, and its sum­mer home in Bei­jing.

Chi­nese and Bri­tish or­nithol­o­gists and bird lovers caught 16 cuck­oos in three Bei­jing­wet­land parks in­May, and fit­ted satel­lite track­ing tags to five of the birds.

Data show that a male bird dubbed “Sky­bomb Bolt” com­pleted a 3,700 km non­stop flight from cen­tral In­dia, across the Ara­bian Sea, to So­ma­lia ear­lier in Novem­ber, while two birds flew to north­ern In­dia. The other two were miss­ing.

It is thought to be the long­est mi­gra­tion route known for any cuckoo — much longer than that of the Euro­pean cuckoo.

“Be­fore leav­ing In­dia, he had al­ready trav­eled nearly as far as some UK cuck­oos do on their en­tire mi­gra­tion,” Chris Hew­son, a re­searcher and mem­ber of the Bri­tish Trust for Or­nithol­ogy, said of Sky­bomb Bolt. “Watch­ing how it has made the world look small is a fan­tas­tic and hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Bei­jing cuck­oos typ­i­cally fly south in Oc­to­ber and re­turn in April. Though well-known for their dis­tinc­tive call, the birds are se­cre­tive. Shi Yang, a bird­watcher for 10 years, says cuck­oos usu­ally perch in the dense tree canopy.

“They are rarely seen un­less they fly,” Shi said, so the birds are dif­fi­cult to study, con­found­ing or­nithol­o­gists who spec­u­late on their flight paths. The pop­u­la­tion, breed­ing sea­sons and threats they face are still un­known.

Only in re­cent years have track­ing de­vices be­come small enough for a cuckoo to carry. In the past, satel­lite tech­nol­ogy was only able to track larger birds, such as red-crowned cranes and whooper swans.

“In the fu­ture, when tech­nol­ogy ad­vances, we hope to track dif­fer­ent, smaller birds too,” said Terry Town­shend, an or­ga­nizer of the project and founder of Bird­ing Bei­jing, an NGO.

Town­shend, a Bri­ton who has been bird-watch­ing in Bei­jing for five years, said schools have par­tic­i­pated in the project, broad­en­ing its im­pact be­yond tra­di­tional sci­ence cir­cles. He fre­quently vis­its schools, gives lec­tures and leads bird-watch­ing trips so that stu­dents can fol­low the cuck­oos’ progress and learn more about their habi­tat.

In Au­gust, Bei­jing mid­dle school stu­dents, who were study­ing the Olympics at the time, gave Sky­bomb Bolt his name — af­ter world-cham­pion Ja­maican sprinter Usain Bolt.

Il­le­gal net­ting of mi­gra­tory birds has been re­ported fre­quently in China this year, re­in­forc­ing the im­por­tance of public en­gage­ment, Town­shend said.

“Peo­ple want to pro­tect what they love, but they can only love what they know,” he said. “It’s im­por­tant to tell more peo­ple about the in­cred­i­ble jour­neys. When peo­ple learn about the cuckoo, they want to pro­tect it.”

Watch­ing how it has made the world look small is a fan­tas­tic and hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence.” Chris Hew­son, re­searcher and mem­ber of the Bri­tish Trust for Or­nithol­ogy

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