Blog by Dr Susana Requena, Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

Tracking and mapping

With continuing advances in tracking technology, our capacity to track birds keeps breaking new barriers. One species that has benefited from smaller tags and almost real-time satellite transmission is the globally-threatened European Turtle-dove (Streptopelia turtur), a widespread summer visitor that is now a global conservation priority with a decline above 30% since 2000 across Europe. In the UK, for every 100 turtle doves that there were in 1995 just six remain. Knowing more about their movements and ecology is a fundamental step in conserving this bird.


Photo: One of our main characters, Angela, on its return to Frampton in June 2017 after having completed a whole annual cycle. Photo by Lindon Horleston.

In 2012 we first fitted satellite tags to turtle doves to learn about their movements from their UK breeding grounds to their wintering areas. Subsequently, we have collaborated with the Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (ONCFS) in France, and now have data on 35 annual cycles from 28 birds: 12 tagged in the UK, 12 in France and 4 in Senegal. This valuable dataset is showing us how birds use their home ranges, both in the breeding season in Europe and on the wintering grounds in West Africa. We are learning about the routes they take between Africa and Europe and detecting important stopover sites where the birds rest along the way and the exact time at which this all occurs. Among different data processing and statistical analyses, we have also produced an animation of the tracks, so our numbers can come to life!

This is the story of a year in the life of our satellite-tagged turtle doves: