Red List Thirteen – Turtle Dove

Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) Photo by Mike Pennington

Dear Readers, in The Guardian today I read that a team of scientists are raising a ‘further’ $150m in order to pursue their attempt to resurrect the dodo, a relative of the pigeon which became extinct in the 17th century. We’ve been here before of course – I wrote a piece about the ‘resurrection men‘ a while ago. What makes me particularly cross about this case is that the turtle dove, one of our most iconic birds (number two on the Twelve Days of Christmas for one thing) is threatened not just in the UK but globally, and I can’t help but think that a ‘further’ $150 million would be better spent trying to preserve the species that we have, rather than trying to ‘create’ a no doubt lonely and miserable bird from the past. You can probably hear the harrumphing from wherever you are.

The turtle dove has gone from over a quarter of a million birds in the UK in 1960 to just a few thousand now. A survey in Surrey found just 80 singing males, with 20 of them on the Knepp Estate, which has been a triumph of rewilding, but which needs to be duplicated all over the country if we’re to save our endangered species. The turtle dove seems to love the thorny scrub that’s been allowed to grow at Knepp, and it’s a species that loves the tiny seeds of scarlet pimpernel and ramping fumitory. It may also eat tiny snails and it needs clean water, as do all our birds. Its return to Knepp gives me a little hope, for who would want to lose the sound of the turtle dove from our countryside altogether?

This is a recording by Frank Lambert from the Knepp Estate, and what’s so wonderful is not only the sound of the turtle doves but the choir of other birdsong in the background.

So what has happened to this bird, to make it so rare?

Turtle Dove – Photo by Charles J. Sharp

Current research seems to show that the birds are making fewer nesting attempts, and that those that are made are less successful. This could be because of a lack of breeding sites, and a lack of food – birds that are not well-nourished are less likely to breed, As if this wasn’t enough, the birds appear to be prone to trichmoniasis, the same disease which has done such damage to greenfinches. Finally, the birds are hunted across their migration route, which encompasses much of Europe, North Africa and Russia. But interestingly, it seems that it’s the loss of breeding habitat which is the most crucial factor, and fortunately several conservation organisations are trying to persuade landowners to improve their land so that it’s more welcoming for the turtle doves. You can read about some of their initiatives here, and it makes for a little bit of hope. Fingers crossed for these elegant birds, and let’s hope that they can be prevented from going the same way as the dodo.

Dodos at the Oxford Museum – Photo By BazzaDaRambler



3 thoughts on “Red List Thirteen – Turtle Dove

  1. Virginia

    A really lovely recording of the birdsong at Knepp. No one would want to loose the song of the turtle dove. Thank you for this very interesting post.

  2. Ann Bronkhorst

    Wonderful sound, like an excited cat’s purr.
    I am harrumphing too about the dodo scheme, plus mammoths and other grotesque ideas.

  3. Sharon Pearse

    I agree with you on this.

    Meanwhile the Want To Play God branch of Biological Scientists . . . Or something like that.


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