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Turtle Dove

Bird Image


An appealing and dainty bird, the Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) is smaller and darker than the collared dove. It boasts an orangey-brown and black patterned back, a blue-grey head and a pink chest.  The turtle dove also has three or four black and white stripes that form a patch on the side of its neck. Its black tail has a white edge. Unfortunately, the distinctive and evocative purr of this bird is becoming an increasingly rare feature of English summers.

Turtle doves are best searched for in hedgerows, open land with scattered bushes and the margins of woodland.

What is the turtle dove’s distribution and population?

Mainly found in southern and eastern England, the turtle dove is a migratory bird that winters in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is the fastest declining bird in the UK and is now threatened with global extinction.

Turtle doves have been hunted when passing through Mediterranean countries. This practice is now outlawed. The principal reason for the turtle dove’s struggles is thought to be lack of food in both its wintering and breeding grounds. The number of turtle doves in the UK has fallen by a truly disturbing 91% in recent years. Just 14,000 breeding pairs remain. The turtle dove is red-listed as a species of high conservation concern.

What do turtle doves eat?

Adult birds feed on cereal and wildflower seeds. The seeds of Chickweed and fumitory are firm favourites. Turtle doves feed their young 'pigeon milk'. This is a regurgitated, milky substance which the birds draw from a food-storage organ called a crop.

Where do turtle doves nest?

These birds build flimsy nests that are hidden in scrub or thorny hedgerows. A clutch generally features only two eggs and these are incubated by both parents for roughly 14 days. Chicks fledge after 21 days.

Did you know?

English turtle doves winter mainly in the semi-arid Senegal and Guinea whereas birds from eastern European countries choose to winter in Sudan and Ethiopia.

In Greek mythology, turtle doves were symbolic of the goddess Demeter.


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