“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!”

A Common Cuckoo (Cuculus Canorus) has completed one of the longest migrations recorded by any land bird.

The Common Cuckoo, named Onon after a Mongolian river, set off from its winter home in Zambia in southern Africa on 20 March and flew about 13,000km to arrive at its birthplace and breeding grounds near Khurkh Bird Banding Station in Mongolia at 3.22pm local time on Wednesday, bird conservation organisation Birding Beijing said.

The bird, named Onon, had left Khurkh Bird Banding Station in Mongolia with four other cuckoos in June last year and in total travelled 26,000 kms, crossing 16 countries in his “mammoth journey”, soaring over oceans and battling high winds. Onon is the only cuckoo to return to its breeding ground.

The five cuckoos were satellite tagged by the Khurkh Bird Banding Centre in northern Mongolia from 4-8 June last year by The Mongolia Cuckoo Project, a joint initiative by the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center (WSCC) of Mongolia and the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

The Mongolia Cuckoo Project is trying to better understand where Central Asian cuckoos go during their annual life cycles. The project is hopeful of building on the Beijing-based project, which commencing in 2016, revealing that some Common Cuckoos were making non-stop flights of up to 3,700 km across the Indian Ocean to East Africa.

Onon was one of four Common Cuckoos (Nomad, Bayan and Khurkh being the names of the other three Common Cuckoos) tagged along with an Oriental Cuckoo who also was tagged.


Onon was the only one that completed a round trip from Mongolia to his winter home in Zambia and back again, covering a total of 26,000km.

“Onon is home! As of 1530 local time on 27 May 2020 he is in the vicinity of Khurkh Bird (Banding) Station, where he was fitted with his tag in June 2019, after a round trip of 26,000km, including 27 border crossings involving 16 countries,” said Birding Beijing on its website.

“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 and another cuckoo Bayan and Onon were both on similar routes until Bayan reached China’s Yunnan Province.

“It’s a reminder that migration is tough and there are many threats along the way – bad weather, predators and difficulty finding a good stopover site due to habitat loss, to name a few – and every years a significant percentage of migratory birds don’t make it,” said Birding Beijing in an update on Bayan.

“Whatever the reason, it highlights the need for us all to better protect the habitats that migratory birds need all along their migration route. These birds are shared by all of us in the countries along the route – from Mongolia to Mozambique – and, with that, comes a shared responsibility to do what we can to protect them.”

Onon’s journey from and back to his home in Mongolia