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Wonder of wonders: our visit from a turtle dove

The latest garden-excitement in Long Ashton’s Yanley Lane began a few days ago when Owen caught sight of a bird quickly landing near our birdbath before flying up into a birch tree nearby. “Blimey!” he said, or words to that effect. That looks like a turtle dove.

He grabbed his binoculars and said ‘Yes! It is!!!’. But, before we could glimpse the dove, it had flown away.


However, Owen is an ace bird spotter and in the 1950’s had grown up with turtle doves in the Fens when they were so much more common than they are today.

Turtle doves are the fastest-declining bird in the UK with a shocking 93% decline in their numbers during the last fifty years.

Operation Turtle Dove aims to reverse their decline by research and establishing habitats throughout their core breeding range.


However, our garden is nowhere near their UK core breeding ranges, so we would never have guessed that a turtle dove would pop into our garden – however briefly.


Crossing our fingers for a second sighting of the turtle dove


The next day, the rain poured down. The day after that, Owen checked the pictures from our trail camera and to our great amazement they revealed that during the early morning a turtle dove had been feeding on the ground. Even better, we discovered the dove was still in the garden when, an hour or two later, it flew down for food once again.

Adjectives can’t do the bird justice; it truly is an elegant, dainty and utterly beautiful little dove. This one seemed exhausted and, after feeding, rested in the sun before flying up into a birch tree again. We didn’t dare go in the garden in case we disturbed it and were, in the next couple of days, rewarded with other wonderful sights as the dove regained its strength, fed, flew around and became quite feisty with the jackdaws that tried to muscle in on its space.


Our garden isn’t that big but we’re so pleased that the dove spotted our billowing hedges, grassy glades and ponds, and came for a brief respite from all the troubles the species faces in the outside world.


Turtle doves face threats around the world


Literally thousands and thousands of turtle doves are shot every year in Spain and France as they migrate to-and-from their wintering grounds in north-west Africa, whilst the lack of food and suitable habitat in this country makes life increasingly impossible for them here.


In 2012, the RSPB began a satellite tracking project to learn more about their movements and looking at their swift night time journeys overland was a revelation.


Thanks to the purchase of a store of small seeds last year, in case our harvest mice made a re-appearance in our garden, we were able to boost ‘our’ dove’s food supplies.


Watching a critically endangered bird recover its joie de vivre in your garden is indescribable. And we can only hope that she/he has a successful few years navigating the dangers all around. Having the dove here really has been a wonder of wonders.


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