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Migratory bird that defied Covid-19 times flies back home

Reproductive Health - By Saada Hassan
Oriental Cuckoo bird nicknamed ONON covered more than 8,000km from Kenya to China in five days.[Photo:Courtesy]


As the world continues to battle the coronavirus pandemic five birds were having times of their lives touring the world.

Seven months later, the bird an Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus optatus) nicknamed ONON is back home in Mongolia near Russian border, after finishing a round trip of 26,000km having crossed 27 borders involving 16 countries Kenya being one of them. Impressively the bird covered more than 8,000km from Kenya to China in five days.

Named after a local river, ONON became one of the first such species to be fitted with a transmitter that enables scientists to understand the bird migratory movement.

On June 8, ONON together with other four common cuckoos were released from the Khurkh Bird Banding Center to begin their journey. The Oriental cuckoo began its journey immediately covering 250 km by the third day and heading to the North Western towards Lake Baikal in Russia.

Cuckoo birds are usually known to migrate to Africa during winter season. The Oriental cuckoo being the first of its kind to be fitted with a tag it was interesting to find out where he would choose his winter ground. Crossing deserts and oceans are some of the most perilous parts of bird migrations.

On April 12, ONON flew deep into Kenya and began the return journey home. At this point he had already made major border crossing trips.

In a spirited flight, ONON landed in Bangladesh on May 6 covering 6,300 km from Kenya to Bangladesh taking about 6 days, 17 hrs and 21 minutes.

According to Birding Beijing, migration is tough and there are many threats along the way ranging from bad weather, predators and difficulty finding a good stopover site due to habitat loss and every year a significant percentage of migratory birds don’t make it.

Cuckoo birds are brood parasites which means they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. Females can lay around 15-20 eggs per summer which can be seen as a strategy boost to their population, helping to offset the losses of migration.

BAYAN one of the cuckoos that landed in Kenya did not complete its journey back home after losing its signal in China on May 12 have done 31 border crossings involving 18 countries and a total distance of 24,000km.
Finally, on May 27, ONON landed home.

“(Today) 15h22 local time. After an epic 26,000km round trip including 27 border crossings involving 16 countries, ONON is back at Khurkh Bird Banding Station in North Mongolia, the place where he was fitted with his tag on June 8, 2019. Remarkable,” said Beijing Birding, a Chinese’s birding and wildlife portal.

“Remarkable navigation and endurance. And now he has no time to waste as he needs to set up his territory, defending it from competing males and mate with as many females as possible!”

ONON has made a remarkable journey having traversed Mongolia – China – Myanmar – India – Bhutan – India – Nepal – India – Pakistan – Oman – Saudi Arabia – Yemen – Saudi Arabia – Eritrea – Ethiopia – Kenya – Tanzania – Zambia – Tanzania – Kenya – Somalia – India – Bangladesh – India – Bangladesh – Myanmar – China and finally back in Mongolia.

Just like ONON another bird had caused an online sensation among bird lovers in February when an Osprey bird flew about 7,000km from Finland to Kenya.

The four-year-old fish-eating bird was caught by a fisherman in Lake Victoria in Siaya County but died of dehydration and starvation according to KWS officials.

According to data from Biodiversity Atlas, it is estimated that the country has one of the richest avifauna diversities in Africa, with around 1,100 bird species.

About 800 are year-round residents, while 60 are afro-tropical migrants, moving within the continent and 170 are palaearctic migrants, that journey from Eurasia each winter.

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