There has been significant outrage lately focused on our sea birds and to some extent our raptors. What about our resident land birds? One in particular that has fallen into difficulty is the iconic Turtle Dove. Can the 12 days of Christmas carol still be sung if Turtle Doves no longer exist? I think not. Worryingly, the iconic ending to this carol ‘A Partridge in a pear tree’ is in the same situation, as the grey partridge in particular is also in rapid decline, so sooner or later it will be known as ‘The 10 days of Christmas’.
The Turtle Dove is a beautiful majestic bird with a myriad of colours that reflect in all directions. However there has been a 96% reduction over the past 40 years, which to me, is a disservice that this marvelous bird is not more widespread. There has been a recent spectacle of the RSPB tracking one of these birds to their winter homes, shining some light and hope that it will be saved.
During the summer it resides here in the UK after traveling huge distances from Africa where it lives in the winter. After arriving in spring the Turtle doves attempt to find open country or scrub to set up their British summer home. This is where they intend to create the next family to continue this species. However over the years the populations have dropped further with no clear explanation?
There isn’t one single culprit to explain the demise of the Turtle Dove, but a multitude of them. One of the most obvious, yet tragic, is its colour and beauty, which has parallels to a similar species the bird of paradise which is also hunted for their feathers. Turtle doves not only face this peril, but are also captured in there millions in southern Europe, again due to their appearance. Their size means that they can’t glide on high wind currents like the larger and more agile birds of prey so instead they prefer a low altitude, high-speed approach, which puts them in the reach of most hunters. Added to this danger of actually reaching the breeding grounds here in the UK, are habitat loss of hedgerows, woodland etc. has added a further strain on the birds themselves and their ability to breed. The last knife to this already tragic affair is a disease, Trichomonas, which puts significant strain on them and causes lesions resulting in them becoming unhealthy. This pressure from the disease weakens the birds and when they attempt to breed it pushes them to the edge; to death. It explains why the breeding has declined over recent years as they simply aren’t healthy enough to gather food and raise their young. With feeding grounds reducing because of habitat loss, the birds congregate in fewer areas, resulting in a faster spread of the disease, thus decreasing the population even further.
With an attempt at understanding the migratory route of turtle doves it gives the potential to try and protect this species. If we can understand its route maybe we can get protection for them against poachers or collectors. The third top hit on google is ‘Turtle Doves for sale’, which doesn’t give the best motive of the general population. Maybe their beauty is too much for some collectors, but this has to change to conserve this species. If we can protect them during their journey and maintain some habitat or create reserves for them to breed in then maybe they will survive.
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