The Second Day of Christmas – Two Turtle Doves

European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur)

Dear Readers, the presence of this bird in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas is another puzzle, as even when turtle doves were common in the UK, they were only here from April to September, preferring to winter around the Mediterranean or in North Africa. Alas, they are another bird that has declined in the UK, due to a combination of, firstly, intensive agriculture: turtle doves feed on the seeds and shoots of many ‘weeds’, especially fumitory, and these are usually herbicided (new verb :-)) to extinction. Secondly, they are shot as they fly over many European countries (Malta, I’m glaring at you). Thirdly, climate change is impacting on the timing of their migration and the availability of food en route. And finally, they may be in competition with the increasingly common collared dove for the same limited resources. Turtle doves are much shyer than the collared doves which are all over my garden, and need much more specialised habitat.

However, all is not lost – experiments in rewilding at the Knepp Castle estate in Sussex have managed to increase the number of singing male turtle doves from 3 in 1999 to 17 in 2017, which shows that with careful and sympathetic habitat management, and with patience, species can be encouraged to return even from a very low number. Fingers crossed that their success continues.

The film below gives you the sound of turtle doves at Knepp and lots of other creatures as well, including some very noisy marsh frogs.

So, here’s our question for today.

Question Two

Why are turtle doves called turtle doves?

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