Find out more about turtle doves

Turtle Doves (Streptopelia turtur) have declined dramatically in the UK and reduced almost everywhere else in their European range.

However, we now know the key problems faced by Turtle Doves and what conservation action needs to be taken, and Operation Turtle Dove is optimistic that we can reverse the fortunes of this enigmatic and culturally significant bird.

You can play a part in their recovery. Photo credit@: Dougal Urquhart

Turtle Dove perched on branch. Credit@: Dougal Urquhart.On this page you can find out more about turtle doves

Turtle doves in culture

Turtle doves have featured in art and culture for thousands of years. Their beauty, song and behaviour inspired Ancient Greeks and Romans, Elizabethan poets, modern musicians, and painters. Perhaps because of their endearing, soothing purr and tender affections when seen perched in pairs, they have long been symbols of love.

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What are we doing to save turtle doves?

We have very good scientific evidence showing that there are two key issues to address to save Turtle Doves in the UK. Firstly, we must provide them with better quality breeding habitats, particularly feeding opportunities, so that they can produce more chicks each year. Secondly, we must see an end to unsustainable levels of hunting along their flyway in south-west Europe.

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What is a turtle dove?

Turtle doves are the UK’s fastest declining bird species and they are threatened with global extinction. Turtle doves are a vibrant, dainty species of dove (weighing in at around 140 grams) with a charismatic turrrturrr-ing call from which its name derives. Turtle doves are the only long distance migratory dove species in Europe, with their more common relatives such as the collared dove and woodpigeon staying in the UK year-round. The best chance you have to see the species is in East Anglia and South-east England, where the species has maintained its highest densities.

photo credit: Jonny Rankin

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Why are turtle doves in trouble?

Turtle Doves are ecologically unique, being Europe’s only long distance migratory dove. They spend just a third of the year on their breeding grounds in Europe and spend the winter on their non-breeding grounds in sub-Saharan West Africa.

Turtle Dove numbers in the UK have plummeted by an estimated 99% since their peak in the late 1960s. Research has shown that a loss of breeding season habitats that provide seed food for the doves was the single most important factor in their decline.

photo credit: Barend van Gemerden

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Tracking Turtle Doves

Back in summer 2014, scientists from the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science fitted a Turtle Dove – named Titan – with a small, lightweight satellite tag in Suffolk before it embarked on its mammoth migration journey. Titan then completed an incredible 11,200 km to Mali in West Africa, spending the winter there before returning to Suffolk – to exactly where he originally was tagged.

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