BIRD NOTE 8 - The Turtle Dove

You will no doubt have seen that on Friday 26 April the RSPB released a charity song, “Let Nature Sing”, to highlight Britain’s declining bird numbers. It contains the songs of 25 threatened or endangered birds out of 67 species on the organisation’s “red list” of globally-threatened species in severe decline. Familiar names include Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, Skylark and Nightingale. In the last 50 years Britain has lost 40 million birds.

It is timely to release the recording now because it is the time of year when migrants return from Africa. 

The bird with the steepest decline is probably the Turtle Dove whose numbers have fallen by over 90% since 1994 in Britain and by some 80% in Europe. Turtle Doves spend the winter in West Africa and arrive back in Britain in April. One cause for this decline is believed to be the lack of seed from arable plants on which the birds depend during the breeding season, resulting in a much abbreviated breeding season with fewer breeding attempts as a consequence. Changes in land management have taken their toll and it is now forecast for imminent extinction in the UK unless things drastically change. 

The other factor which impacts on the numbers returning to the UK is hunting in southern Europe. It is hard to believe but there are no fewer than 82 permissible quarry species under the EU Birds Directive. Countries can decide which species they list. The Turtle Dove is one such species and, in 2014/15, ten countries opened a hunting season for it. Almost 1.5 million Turtle Doves were shot despite the bird being globally vulnerable in conservation terms. You may be shocked to learn that in the same year over 5 million Song Thrushes were killed, mostly in southern Europe where, together with Skylarks and Robins for example, they are treated as a delicacy and appear on restaurant menus. France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta are the main culprits. 

The Birds Directive states that permissible hunting should be adjusted so that conservation of species is not compromised. This moderating action does not appear to be implemented in many or most cases. Meanwhile, the opportunity to hear the Turtle Dove in UK may soon be only available by listening to the RSPB’s recording. 



You can find out more about Tutle Doves and what is being done to protect them at Operation Turtle Dove:


A Video of Turtle Doves at RSPB Titchwell