June 21, 2018,
Young turtle doves raised on a diet of seeds from non-cultivated arable plants are more likely to survive after fledging than those relying on food provided in people's gardens, new research into Britain's fastest declining bird species has shown.
Ecologists at the University of Lincoln, UK, investigated the dietary habits of adult and nestling European turtle doves – an IUCN Red List Threatened Species – breeding in the UK, using DNA analysis of . They found significant associations between the body condition and the of the bird.
Nestling turtle doves still being fed by their parents were found to thrive on seeds foraged from non-cultivated arable plants such as scarlet pimpernel and chickweed, but the birds were in poorer condition when their diet was high in seeds provided by humans in back gardens or public spaces. In contrast, adult body condition was better when more cultivated seeds such as wheat, oil rape and barley were present in the diet.
Data collected for the study, which was carried out in collaboration with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the University of Sheffield and Cardiff University, was compared with the results of previous studies carried out in the 1960s and 1990s. It revealed a fundamental shift in the diet of turtle doves, showing that the birds are now relying more heavily on food found in gardens, such as sunflower and niger seeds, than they did 50 years ago.
As the UK's fastest declining , the results of the study have important implications for conservation strategies to save the turtle dove. Previous research has shown that nestling birds with better body condition are more likely to survive after fledging and strategies should be developed to provide the correct diet for the bird at each stage of its life.