Taking action for migratory birds

To turn around the fortunes of our migrant birds, working with partners all along the flyway is critically important.

Hope for turtle doves

Through research, partnerships and practical conservation delivery, the RSPB’s Birds without Borders programme has made important steps forward in understanding more about declining migratory birds right along the flyway from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa and how we can help them. There’s no better example of this joined up, flyway-scale conservation approach than our work on turtle doves.

Together with Natural England, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Fair to Nature, the RSPB is part of Operation Turtle Dove, which aims to improve the fortunes of these birds through testing and delivering practical conservation action.

Having learned that a lack of food during the breeding season is having a negative effect on turtle doves, we've been carrying out work with the University of Sheffield to investigate whether providing supplementary seed during this period is safe and effective. Encouragingly, our research has shown that this is a safe emergency conservation option. We're now working with land managers to ensure that food is available for turtle doves in key areas.

At home and abroad

Our work for turtle doves doesn't end there. We're also funding two dedicated advisers who are providing advice to farmers and land managers on how to support turtle doves on their land in East Anglia and South-East England. Further afield, Conservation Scientists have spent the last three winters investigating the habitat use and diet of turtle doves in Senegal. Their findings will help us to better understand what the species needs when it reaches its African wintering grounds.

Saving a migratory species requires co-operation across borders. 2018 sees the completion of a three-year LIFE-funded partnership project with Birdlife International, to develop an international turtle dove Action Plan. With input from 200 experts from 50 countries, the Action Plan highlights the actions required to save turtle doves across its range. The actions must now be put in place, and the European Commission will be looking closely at how EU Member States implement these actions.

Uncovering the mysteries of migrations

One of the biggest hurdles in the conservation of migrant birds is a lack of knowledge. Efforts to solve problems on the birds’ UK breeding grounds can only go so far if we don’t have an understanding of how they spend the rest of their lives.

Fortunately, technology is providing us with the tools to answer those questions. In partnership with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), we're tracking five species: wood warblers, spotted flycatchers, whinchats, pied flycatchers and swifts. Among the amazing journeys we’ve recorded, we’ve found that the pied flycatchers we tracked crossed the Sahara desert in one non-stop, 60-hour flight.

Swifts tagged in Northern Ireland show that during the breeding season they regularly make 50-km round trips to feed over the edges of Lough Neagh. Belfast, Oxford and Brighton are “Swift Cities” where we're working to raise awareness of swifts and help residents give them a home. Across the UK we're providing resources for groups and individuals to help swifts in their area; our work for migratory birds extends from local to intercontinental.