Turtle Dove, Streptopelia turtur

A real prize in our area is the Turtle Dove, and when we didn't hear them in their usual haunts in open farmland earlier this summer (2007) we felt gloomily that it was yet another sign of the decline of wildlife in the countryside. Then Corinne went with her exercise group to Hemsted Forest, and there they were -- although almost certainly not the bird or birds we'd been hearing locally. A few days later we returned with recording equipment and got lucky. Quite lucky, because 2007 is being a windy year, and wind doesn't sound too good in recordings. Also, Hemsted Forest, although quite large, is on a low ridge and so there are no topographic barriers to the surround-sound traffic. Then there are the jets . . .

Anyway, here's a sample taken with the Telinga and dish. The purring of these birds is not at all loud, and we were surprised to find by triangulation (walking around where the bird was singing) that we must have been within 50 yards of it. I'd been convinced it was much further away! This is a 45 second extract (mp3 made at 128 kb/s).

Turtle Dove 1 (729.40 K)

On our way in to the forest we ran into Steve Message, the bird painter, and he said there were three pairs in Hemsted this year. If there's a bird in the forest, Steve knows about it. We found two, presumably singing males, and hope to find the third some day. Thank goodness the Nightjars are back this year, again according to Steve. Odd how turtles and jars sound just slightly similar (see Nightjar page). Odd too that during the same visit to Kent I recorded a captive New Zealand Boobok Owl, which makes a rather similar purr to the Turtle Dove. Here's a short Boobok clip (362.04 K).


Why the decline of the Turtle Dove?

Censuses show a heavy decline in the numbers breeding in this country since the mid-1960s (in the order of 60% plus, though as the figures are sometimes ambiguously referred to it's difficult to arrive at an overall figure for the whole period from then to now, which is covered by two censuses). I was concocting a highly convincing theory about the low-frequency turtle calls being unable to compete with the continuous rumble of overflying jets when I found the real reasons, which are well known. The Turtle Dove winters south of the Sahara and migrates to Europe to breed. In all three stages of the yearly cycle it is under threat: "tens of thousands" of birds are shot in the wintering grounds, mainly Senegal; "many more are killed on migration through Morocco", and "It is heavily shot in France and the Iberian peninsula" (quotes from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan page for the species). As if that wasn't enough, once here in the UK the usual culprit, agricultural practices, mainly weed control and the removal of hedges providing nesting sites, mean that it has difficulty both finding enough to eat and rearing young. The result is that it's now listed on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List and in Annex II of the EC Birds Directive (ARKive: Turtle Dove). Meanwhile, "The EC and French government are under pressure to ensure that the legislation on hunting is enforced" (UKBAP again). Huh.

So our poor little local turtle, which we were once able to approach quite closely, was probably shot somewhere in Africa or Spain. One wonders whether anything will be left alive in a hundred years' time.

BTO News Issue 272 (Sept-Oct 2007) pp. 12-14 confirms the sad decline as recorded in the Breeding Bird Survey 1994-2006. In this 12-year period there's been a 61% decline, meaning, I take it, that for every 10 birds present in 1994 there were four in 2006. It's not the worst decline recorded over the period -- of the birds listed in the article Willow Tit (-69%) and Wood Warbler (-66%) were worse.


27 May 2008

Great news! Corinne phoned this afternoon to say she'd heard a Turtle Dove locally. Precise location was off Halden Lane, in trees on the Beston Farm property. She was so pleased she mobiled from the spot. Let's hope it's the bird (or one of the birds, though we only ever actually saw one) we were hearing in 2006.

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