Fidelity and distance to previously visited sites throughout the annual cycle in a trans-Saharan migrant, the Common Cuckoo

Cuckoo, by Colin Brown / BTO

Author(s): Bonaldi, C., Vardanis, Y., Willemoes, M., Hewson, C.M., Atkinson, P.W., Nilsson, J-Å ., Klaassen, R.H.G., Strandberg, R., Tøttrup, A.P., Howey, P.W., Alerstam, T. & Thorup, K.

Published: March 2024  

Journal: Journal of Avian Biology

Article No.: e03183

Digital Identifier No. (DOI): 10.1111/jav.03183

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Satellite-tracked Cuckoos show higher fidelity to sites used during the breeding season than to sites used at other times of the year.


Most migratory birds return every year to the same breeding sites and some species show a similarly high fidelity to wintering grounds as well. Fidelity to stopover sites during migration has been much less studied and is usually found to be lower. Here, we investigate site fidelity and distance to previously visited sites throughout the annual cycle in the common cuckoo, a nocturnal trans-Saharan migrant, based on satellite-tracking data from repeated annual migrations of thirteen adult males. All birds (100%) returned to the same breeding grounds, with a median shortest distance of only 1 km from the locations in previous year. This was in strong contrast to a much lower and much less precise site fidelity at non-breeding sites during the annual cycle: In only 18% of the possible cases in all non-breeding regions combined, did the cuckoos return to within 50 km of a previously visited non-breeding site, with no significant differences among the main staging regions (Europe in autumn, Sahel in autumn, wintering in Central Africa, West Africa in spring, Europe in spring). The shortest distance to a previously visited non-breeding site differed among the staging regions with median shortest distances for the longest stopovers of 131 km [2;1223] (median [min;max]) in Europe, 207 km [1;2222] in Sahel in autumn and 110 km [0;628] in Central Africa. The distance to a previously visited staging site decreased with the time spent at the stopover in a previous year. Understanding the drivers of recurrence and site selection in migratory birds are important for guiding conservation efforts in this group but further studies are needed to establish whether the patterns observed in cuckoos are general among terrestrial migrants with continuous distribution of habitat.


Funded by The Danish Council for Independent Research.
Staff Author(s)

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