BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 16 September '16

Turtle doves tracked to reveal migration secrets and reasons for crashing population

Six turtle doves are being satellite tracked from their breeding grounds in the UK to their wintering grounds in West Africa to help scientists better understand why numbers are crashing so rapidly.

According to the recent UK Breeding Bird Survey, the number of turtle doves has declined by 93% since 1994.

Tracking Titan

Last year, in a UK science first, the RSPB revealed the complete migration route of a satellite tagged, UK breeding turtle dove, named Titan, which provided valuable data in the conservation fight to help save the species from UK extinction. Titan’s satellite signal was lost earlier this year when the bird was in Mali.

‘The purring of a turtle dove used to be the sound of summer but sadly due to a huge decline in numbers is now rare or non-existent.

‘We have discovered a lot from Titan, including his exact migration route, important stopover sites and multiple wintering locations, and even how these vary between years in response to environmental conditions. He is also the first turtle dove in the world to be tracked over two consecutive years, giving us a unique opportunity to compare and contrast his behaviour over two successive migratory cycles.’

JOHN MALLORD
RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

Recognising the importance of the data gathered by tracking Titan, but realising there is only a limited amount you can learn from just one bird, the RSPB, in partnership with Operation Turtle Dove (OTD), was granted permission to catch and satellite tag six more turtle doves this summer at different locations across East Anglia.

It’s hoped this new data will continue to provide crucial information about what turtle doves need and the threats they might face while on migration as well as on their breeding grounds here in the UK.

Follow the journey

As the six newly tagged birds prepare to leave the UK for their wintering ground in Africa, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science are inviting the public to follow their journey through a newly launched website. People will be able to see images of the birds, track their incredible 5,600km migration route live and discover their fascinating stopover points along the way.

‘It’s really exciting to have been able to tag more birds so that we can learn more about the routes they take to and from Africa. Once we have a clear picture of the areas they overwinter, and the threats they may face, we can support local conservation groups in promoting the sustainable use of the forests, feeding grounds and watering holes the birds rely on.’

JOHN MALLORD
RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

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.
 
The main factors associated with the decline of turtle doves include the loss of suitable habitat in both the breeding and non-breeding range, unsustainable levels of hunting on migration and disease.
 
Research points towards the loss of suitable habitat on the UK breeding grounds and the associated food shortages for turtle doves being the most important factor driving turtle dove declines.
 
Research carried out in England shows that adult turtle doves are producing half as many chicks as they were in the 1970s. Unlike other dove and pigeon species in the UK, turtle doves are obligate granivores – their diet is formed exclusively of seeds.

The lack of available weed seeds in the countryside, as well as dietary switch from weed seeds to cereal grains, has been associated with an alarming reduction in nesting attempts. This alone is sufficient to explain the current rates of decline.

Click here to meet and track the birds online. More on Operation Turtle Dove can be found here.