How to identifyThe Turtle Dove is a dainty dove, much smaller and darker than the Collared Dove - slightly larger than a Blackbird. Its upperparts are distinctively mottled with chestnut and black, and its black tail has a white edge. Turtle doves are migratory, heading off to Africa in the winter. When they arrive in the UK in spring, they build nests in hedgerows and scrub. They prefer thorny species, such as hawthorn, and will often build nests among climbers, including honeysuckle. They eat seeds, and feed on the ground in weedy areas or in the short stubble after a harvest. Seeds such as chickweed and oilseed rape, as well as cereal grains, are important food sources for Turtle Doves. The Turtle Dove’s gentle purr is an evocative sound of summer, but has become increasingly rare following rapid and sustained population declines. One cause of the decline is thought to be lack of seed and grain during the breeding season, resulting in a much shorter breeder season with fewer nesting attempts. The Turtle Dove has been on the Red List in the UK since 1996, and it remains there today. Red is the highest conservation priority, with species on this list needing urgent action. There have been huge efforts across the UK to save Turtle Doves, including Operation Turtle Dove, an RSPB-led project to work with farmers, landowners and communities to create nesting and feeding habitats for Turtle Doves across Southern and Eastern England. In 2021, the Turtle Dove was RSPB England’s Bird of the Year, in honour of the fantastic work being done to help this vulnerable species. Find out more about our Nature in Crisis appeal, and take a stand for nature with us.
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