10 Oct 2012
The breeding ecology of a declining farmland bird: the Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur

BRANTA — Stephen J. Browne

The breeding ecology of a declining farmland bird: the Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur

Institution: De Montfort University, Leicester, UK
Supervisors: JA Fowler, NJ Aebischer (GCT)
Details: PhD 2002 (Completed)

Address: The Game Conservancy Trust, Fordingbridge, Hampshire, SP6 1EF (Oct 2005) Email

Subject Keywords: Breeding biology, Foraging ecology, Diet, Migration, Habitat use
Species Keywords: European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur



The Turtle Dove is a migrant to Britain, being present only during its breeding season. In recent years the species has undergone a 69% decline in population size and a 25% contraction in breeding range in Britain. Since the early 1960s, very little work had been carried out on the species in this country.

This study uses a variety of data sources to investigate the breeding ecology of the species and compares the results with those collected in the 1960s.

Territories were established in areas with scrub, hedges and woodland with these habitats being used for nesting. The comparison of data showed that Turtle Doves today have a shorter breeding season and produce about half the number of clutches and young per pair than formerly. This would lead to a population decline of 17% per annum. No aspect of breeding ecology or success altered significantly for individual nesting attempts during 1940 to 2000. A shift in the timing of autumn migration supports the theory that Turtle Dove are undertaking fewer nesting attempts.

A change in the species foraging ecology resulted in a switch in the diet from predominately weed seeds in the 1960s to cultivated seeds today. Experimental supplementary feeding did not lead to a detectable change in territory density, territory size or breeding success.

In recent years the availability of suitable Turtle Dove nesting habitat, has been greatly reduced in the farmed environment, and that which remains is less suitable. The lack of suitable nesting habitat may preclude or limit the numbers of Turtle Doves breeding in certain areas of its British breeding range. Reduced food availability, both spatially and temporally, may make birds more likely to cease breeding earlier than during the 1960s and to reduce their number of nesting attempts.
This study suggests that the recovery of Turtle Doves in Britain is dependent upon the provision and sympathetic management of nesting and foraging habitats.


Published Papers

Browne, S.J., Aebischer, N.J. & Crick, H.Q.P 2005. Breeding ecology of Turtle Doves Streptopelia turtur in Britain during the period 1941 to 2000: an analysis of BTO Nest Record Cards. Bird Study 52:1-9.
Browne, S.J. & Aebischer, N.J. 2005. Studies of West Palearctic birds: Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur. British Birds 98: 58-72.
Browne, S.J. & Aebischer, N.J. 2004. Temporal changes in the breeding ecology of European Turtle Doves Streptopelia turtur in Britain, and implications for conservation. Ibis 146:125-137.
Browne, S.J., Aebischer, N.J., Yfantis, G. & Marchant, J.H. 2004. Habitat availability and use by Turtle Doves Streptopelia turtur between 1965 and 1995: an analysis of Common Birds Census data. Bird Study 51: 1-11.
Browne, S.J. & Aebischer, N.J. 2003. Temporal changes in the migration phenology of turtle doves Streptopelia turtur in Britain, based on sightings from coastal bird observatories. Journal of Avian Biology 34: 65-71.
Browne, S.J. & Aebischer, N.J. 2003. Temporal variation in the biometrics of Turtle Doves Streptopelia turtur caught in Britain between 1950 and 2000. Ringing & Migration 21: 203-208.
Browne, S.J. & Aebischer, N.J. 2003. Temporal changes in the breeding and feeding ecology of Turtle Doves (Streptopelia turtur) in the UK: an overview. European Journal of Wildlife Research 48: S215-S221.
Browne, S.J. & Aebischer, N.J. 2003. Habitat use, foraging ecology and diet of Turtle Doves Streptopelia turtur in Britain. Ibis 145:572-582.
Browne, S.J. & Aebischer, N.J. 2002. The effect of supplementary feeding on territory size, territory density and breeding success of the Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur: a field experiment. Aspects of Applied Biology 67: 21-26.
Browne, S.J. & Aebischer, N.J. 2001. The role of agricultural intensification in the decline of the Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur. English Nature, Peterborough.
Aebischer, N.J., Browne, S.J. & Calladine, J.R. 2001. An update on population trends, breeding ecology and migration of British Turtle Doves Streptopelia turtur. In: Status, Management and Conservation of the Species Alectoris, Black Francolin, Thrush, Quail and Turtle Dove in the Mediterranean Region (ed. N. Kassinis & P. Panayides), pp. 20-32. Game Fund Service of Cyprus Ministry of Interior, Nicosia.
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