Have you heard a cuckoo yet? Or seen the swallows return? I heard the local swallows twittering above the garden at the end of April and was lucky enough to hear a cuckoo calling just outside the house on 7 May. I’ve heard that swifts are back too, though as of today I’ve yet to see or hear one. Although closed at present (14 May) due to the Covid19 crisis, this time of year sees most migrant back at The Lodge reserve, including spotted flycatcher, hobby, cuckoo and many warblers.

Birds are among the most mobile life-forms ever. The ability of most birds to fly long distances means that they can move around the globe to help them survive. Many British insect-eating birds move south during the winter so they can be sure of food and a longer-day length in which to find it; they then return for the longer daylight hours of a northern summer, and the feast of insect life that supplies for them to feed their growing young. Some migrants feed on other migrants too, and hobbies (a small falcon) take both – large insects like dragonflies, and smaller birds like martins.

It all used to be a mystery: in Roman times, the theory was that birds like swallows spent the winter at the bottom of lakes and ponds! It has taken generations of ornithologists to work out the truth, and by ringing and re-capturing birds in different parts of the world it has been possible to work out their amazing journeys across the land and seas, avoiding hunters and nets, predators, storms, sea-crossings, deserts and exhaustion.

Today, our conservation scientists have new tools to understand more about the journeys these birds take, and RSPB tries to understand how it can tackle some of the extra challenges they face. Satellite tracking enables a very detailed picture to be built up, and you can read more about this amazing story here:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/satellite-tracking-birds/

Image: hobby at The Lodge, 2019 (c) Rob Gilmore

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