An update on population trends, breeding ecology and migration of British Turtle Doves.
In Britain, the Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur has recently undergone a dramatic fall in numbers (-78%) and contraction of range (-25%J. Possible explanations include habitat deterioration in its west-African winter quarters, hunting during migration and agricultural intensification leading to reduced food availability on its breeding grounds. Recoveries of British-ringed Turtle Doves show that they migrate to and from Africa via France and Iberia, but there are no African recoveries during November-February, so the precise location of their winter quarters remains unknown. The impact of hunting on numbers of British breeders is also unknown, and accurate bag statistics from countries along the migration route are sorely needed. A comparison of the breeding ecology of British Turtle Doves in the 1960s with preliminary results from 1996 and 1998 shows that productivity was 75% higher in the 1960s than now, owing largely to more nesting attempts. Moreover, doves nowadays rely heavily on cultivated seeds for food (>60% of diet), whereas in the 1960s they ate mostly wild weed seeds (>77% of the diet). The change in diet probably results from a lack of seeding arable weeds on modern farmland, in which case agricultural intensification is at least partly responsible for the UK decline.