Last modified: 11 May 2017
RSPB scientists have succeeded in mapping the complete migratory route of a British turtle dove for only the second time, after a bird fitted with a tracking device in East Anglia last summer arrived back in the UK this week.
The bird, named Lawford after the Essex village where he was fitted with his tracker last summer, crossed the channel to arrive back in the UK on Friday 5 May.
After a layover in Croydon and short detour via Suffolk, Lawford made his way to within two miles of where he was first found in 2016, adding to evidence that is helping scientists understand the importance of turtle doves’ faithfulness to their established breeding territories.
The turtle dove is Europe’s only migratory dove. Every autumn they cross the Mediterranean Sea and Sahara desert to reach their wintering grounds in Africa, returning to their European breeding grounds in the spring.
Since leaving Essex in September last year, Lawford has travelled over 6,000 miles, stopping in (or flying over) six other countries: France, Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Mali.
Turtle doves’ return to the UK traditionally marks the arrival of spring, but the sound of their purring ‘turr-turr’ calls is becoming increasingly scarce in most parts of the British countryside.
The number of turtle doves breeding in Britain has plummeted since the 1970s – a trend that has continued in recent decades – making them one of the UK’s fastest declining birds.
Operation Turtle Dove, a partnership project that aims to reverse turtle doves’ decline in the UK, has seen conservationists working closely with farmers and landowners to provide breeding and feeding habitat for turtle doves in areas of the East and South-East of England where they still breed.