Each month we focus on a species that benefits from Fair to Nature farming practises. During May, that species is the critically endangered Turtle Dove….

European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)

Turtle Dove 3Turtle Doves are dainty little birds, similar in size to the more common Collared Dove, with lovely mottled feathers on their wings and back, and three black stripes each side of their neck. Their distinctive purring call heralds the coming of summer.

Turtle Doves are Europe’s only migrant dove. They spend the winter months in sub-Saharan Africa, arriving on our shores in late April/early May to breed. They breed in woods and agricultural areas, building an open nest in a tree, shrub or tall hedge. They feed mainly on the seeds and fruits of weeds and cereals, found mostly on the ground. Like all pigeons and doves, they feed their chicks on ‘crop milk’, a secretion from the crop (an expanded portion of the alimentary tract) of the parent. It’s thought that they may also carry water to their young in their crops. Incidentally, like other pigeons and doves, these birds can drink directly, pumping up water rather than filling their beaks and then tipping their heads back to swallow, like other birds.

But Turtle Doves are in trouble. Since 1970 their numbers have declined by 96% and they are still declining fast! Today their population is 88% lower than it was in 1995! A bird that was once common across much of England is now retreating year after year into an ever shrinking patch of East Anglia and the South East of England. So what’s causing this decline?

Turtle Dove migrating through the Straits of Gibraltar

Turtle Dove migrating through the Straits of Gibraltar – S Tonkin

The problems aren’t fully understood yet but researchers have highlighted a number of contributing factors. The change in land use in both the wintering and breeding grounds has led to a shortage of suitable foraging and nesting habitat leading to fewer broods per nesting pair per year. The parasite Trichomonas is thought to be present in the majority of the breeding population and studies are taking place to establish the impact that the infection Trichomoniasis is having on the birds. Hunting along the Turtle Doves’ migration route reduces the number of birds that reach the breeding grounds.

Operation Turtle Dove is a partnership project involving Conservation Grade, the RSPB, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England with the aim of reversing the declines in the Turtle Dove population by addressing the problems. We are encouraging farmers in the hot-spot areas to sow specially designed seed mixes and create habitats for Turtle Doves. Trials are on-going to find the perfect seed mix. The birds need scrubby areas with trees or tall hedges and standing water. The effects of disease on the birds are being researched, and the RSPB are campaigning against the hunting of the birds during their migration.

YOU can help these birds too!!

Together, we hope to save them!


To read previous Species of the Month, click on the links below:

February

March

April