Turtle Dove Reminiscences

By Peter Wilkinson from Hertfordshire, UK

It is a truth universally acknowledged among ringers (well, perhaps not among the statisticians, who know that these things are truly random) that a ringer in want of a spectacular recovery must only ring one or at most a very few of the species in question.

My contribution to this urban myth is the very first Turtle Dove I ever ringed. I ringed it, just outside Bedford, on the 23rd June 1964 (yes, I ringed my first bird in 1962 and got my ringing permit in 1963, and any ringers among the readers of this blog may be amused to know that it was the only bird I’ve ever ringed with a size 2 ring, which probably not many of us remember!). It was recovered, sadly shot (as many Turtle Doves were, and still are), in Verdun-sur-Garonne in France in September 1965, giving me a 100% foreign recovery record at the time. Some 66 Turtle Doves ringed in the UK have now been recovered in France, but I think it was then somewhere between the 10th and 20th recovered there, providing important, though sad, conservation information, and it was the only Turtle Dove I had ringed.

I still haven’t ringed many. I participated in expeditions studying fat deposition in trans-saharan migrants in Spain and Portugal in the late 1960s where we caught a few, but have only caught two or three more in this country. They really are hard to catch, and the nests aren’t easy to find! A mere seven and a half thousand have been ringed in this country in just over a hundred years. The highest number in a single year was 235 in 1962 – compare that with a mere 35 in 2011 despite all the effort put in by RSPB researchers specifically studying this species. Compare that in turn with a total of almost 37,000 Collared Doves, the first two of which were ringed in 1956! Even I have managed to ring somewhere over 500 of those!

I will never forget the last Turtle Dove I ringed here, though. It was in 1996. A friend and I were targeting adult pigeons using a large walk-in trap baited with food and water (we were also targeting baby Stock Doves in nest boxes, but that’s a different story). One morning we went to the trap and there in it were a Turtle Dove, a Collared Dove, a Stock Dove and a Woodpigeon! Now what are the chances of catching all those at the same time? We don’t know, but we guess that it was the first time it had ever been done, and may possibly be the only time it will ever be done in this country unless and until we can bring Turtle Doves back to where they once were, part of the countryside we used to take for granted, but are now close to losing.

Turtle Doves – adult (right) with juvenile (left) – photo by Dorothy Norman