Is there anything more evocative than the sound of a Turtle dove ‘purring’ from a hedgerow, one of the best indicators that a British summer is finally here?

Unfortunately, the Turtle dove is one of Britain’s fastest declining breeding bird, its numbers have gone down more than 90% since the 1970s. This is a dramatic decline of one our most beautiful birds and is considerable cause for concern amongst those who wait for their arrival every year. We are lucky on Otmoor that we have a population of Turtle doves that arrive back year on year to breed in the hedgerows.

Every year at Otmoor, staff and volunteers hold their breath to see if the Turtle dove has navigated its difficult route and managed to find their way back, one of the last strongholds in Oxfordshire, so it was a relief to everyone, when on the 5th May, one was reported calling on site.

This bird has now been joined by a few more singing males and with a bit of luck, the females will be brooding their eggs, raising the next generation of this long distance wanderer.

So why is there such a decline of Turtle doves?

This is a question that still holds a lot of mysteries. It is not known for sure why the bird has declined so dramatically but theories about lack of food and water sources on their wintering grounds and a reduction in their roosting sites being looked into. Add to this to the now infamous persecution of migratory birds, including Turtle doves, along their migration routes means so much is stacked against these birds.

Incredibly, last year the RSPB managed to fit a radio tracker to a Turtle dove, brilliantly named Titan, and record his migration route.

Astonishingly, his route took him down through France and Spain and eventually into West Africa where he passed through Mauritania and Senegal before settling and spending the Winter in Mali. Overall, his migration was 3500 miles, covering around 300-400+ miles a night, often travelling at speeds of over 35mph! 

If you want to read more about this fantastic story, why not have a look here.

Want to see or hear one of these fantastic birds? Then why not come down to Otmoor and have a listen, sometimes you don't even need to get out of your car, they can be heard from the car park! However, if you aren't quite this lucky then head down to the feeders and the double metal gate into Greenaways where you might see one signing from the wires or feeding on the seed by the gate. They should be around for a few more weeks, fuelling up and building strength before they embark on the return journey and face those perils once more so spare a though for them this Autumn and Winter as they undertake their mammoth journey, and hopefully, come May next year, we will be seeing them returning once more...

Many thanks to RSPB volunteer, Terry Sherlock for all the fantastic photos taken this year!