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 Turtle Dove - Fact File
Turtle Dove
Streptopelia turtur
Summer visitor mainly to S and E England. Declining.
Open wooded farmland, hedgerows and woodland edges.

Our smallest dove. Rusty, scaly back and wing coverts, greyish cap and rump, pinkish breast and neck barring. More often heard than seen, it's soft purring song is distinctive.

26cm (10)

Turtle Dove

The Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man (1996) is a joint publication of eight voluntary environmental organisations: the RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology, Birdlife International, Hawk and Owl Trust, Game Conservancy Trust, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust. It is a highly important publication.

The list divides birds into three categories. The highest conservation concern Red List extends to 36 species. And East Anglia is the UK stronghold for two of the rarest: bittern and stone curlew. The Red List also features a disturbingly high number of formerly common farmland birds which are rapidly declining: tree sparrow, grey partridge, spotted flycatcher, song thrush, skylark, linnet and turtle dove.

As remarked in the latest issue of British Birds magazine: "There is clearly a need for a change in the recording patterns of many county bird reports. . . flocks of linnets and nesting spotted flycatchers, for example, are now records that should be listed whenever encountered."

The inclusion of the turtle dove in the highest category may come as a surprise. When I began birding, this dove was considered a common summer visitor to open country containing tall hedgerows and thickets. It could also be found in open woodland and in large gardens. Pairs regularly visited our garden at Great Plumstead.

Turtle Dove in flightDuring early autumn turtle doves collected in flocks of up to 300 and exceptionally even 800 which lined overhead cables, becoming constant attendants at duck farms in particular. But it was as a coastal spring passage migrant that the most spectacular numbers were noted. Flights could be expected from soon after dawn and the movements often continued several days.

On one occasion 190 headed south-west at Hunstanton in 45 minutes. Three years later 1000 travelled west along the shore in a single day at Titchwell. On June 1 1975 almost 600 headednorth at Winterton during a three-hour watch followed next spring by a single flock of 500 at Holme. Daily totals of 500 to 700 and even 1300 continued as a Maytime coastal feature during spells of settled weather until 1987 when the movements ended abruptly.

Nowadays such flights are becoming a fading memory. I miss listening to the deep purring of turtle doves. And I miss their display flights when they spiral slowly down with wings fully spread and tails fanned emphasising the contrasting black and white patterning.

Will numbers ever return? Turtle doves winter south of the Sahara and many thousands become casualties when crossing the Mediterranean


By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.