British Gamblers Bet On Cuckoo Migration

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If the high-octane Kentucky Derby—over in mere minutes—isn't exactly your speed when it comes to betting on animal races, perhaps the months-long migration of the British cuckoo would appeal to you. As of this year, gamblers in the United Kingdom can place some pounds on their favorite bird making a speedy trip back from Africa, where the species spends their winter.

It's all in the animals' best interests. Since the 1980s, the population of the British Common Cuckoo has declined by a startling 65 percent, and scientists aren't exactly sure why. To gain a better understanding of the birds' lifestyles, researchers from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) started tagging and satellite-tracking birds in 2011.

This year, with 50 birds tagged, the researchers partnered with William Hill, one of the world’s most prominent bookies, to open a unique betting pool and draw attention to the cuckoos. It's a true high-stakes race—33 of the tagged birds perished early. But the remaining 17 embarked unknowingly on a race tracked in real time on the BTO site.

"The average stake was just a few British pounds, which is typical of a market which nobody has ever bet on before—perhaps in years to come we will have specialist professionals wagering huge amounts on cuckoo races!" Jon Ivan-Duke, a spokesman for the bookie, told Audubon. "Each year we are hoping to grow the market to be a profitable venture and along with the BTO, raise awareness about this unique and brilliant species."

This year's winner has already been crowned—a long-shot named Hennah (odds set at 25 to 1), who was thought missing for much of the "race" after blowing desert sand and canopy cover rendered his UV-powered tracker useless—but you can watch a recap of all the cuckoos' journey here and learn more about the tracking project in the video below.

[h/t Audubon]