Turtle Doves tagged by RSPB to reveal migration secrets

One of the European Turtle Doves receives its RSPB tag. Photo: www.rspb-images.com.
One of the European Turtle Doves receives its RSPB tag. Photo: www.rspb-images.com.
Six European Turtle Doves are being satellite-tracked from their breeding grounds in Britain to their wintering grounds in West Africa to better understand why the population is declining so rapidly.

The scheme parallels the British Trust for Ornithology's Common Cuckoo tracking sheme which has resulted in many revelations about the species' migration strategy and survival rates. It also comes hot on the heels of news that funding for the Countryside Stewardship scheme which has helped turtle doves in the recent past will remain in place for the next couple of years at least, after a guarantee by DEFRA. 

According to the recent UK Breeding Bird Survey, the number of European Turtle Doves has declined by 93 per cent since 1994. Last year, for the first time, the RSPB revealed the complete migration route of a satellite-tagged British breeding turtle dove named Titan, which provided valuable data in the conservation fight to help save the species from extirpation from the country.

Titan’s satellite signal was lost earlier this year when the bird was in Mali, and now the RSPB in partnership with Operation Turtle Dove (OTD) are following six more.

Another of the tagged European Turtle Doves showing off its subtly variegated plumage in the hand. Photo: (www.rspb-images.com).

John Mallord, of the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, said: “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 stop-over 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.”

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 were granted permission to catch and satellite tag 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 the species needs and the threats indivduals might face while on migration and on their breeding grounds.

John continued: “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 [in which] they overwinter and the threats they face, we can support local conservation groups in promoting the sustainable use of the forests, feeding grounds and watering holes the birds rely on.”

As the six newly tagged birds prepare to leave Britain for their wintering areas in Africa, the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science is 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 3,500-mile migration route live and discover their stop-over points along the way.

Supporters also have the opportunity to name one of the doves in an attempt to raise awareness of a species on the brink of extinction in the UK. To find out more visit the RSPB's European Turtle Dove web page