Saturday, 24 April 2010

Pigeons of Bristol 7: Turtle Doves

In the Camargue Aviary as you enter Bristol Zoo your attention is first drawn to our flock of Greater Flamingos and Little Egrets. Many do not notice a very beautiful dove we also hold in this exhibit, the European Turtle-Dove.

These migratory relatives of the well-known Collared Dove, which breeds in the Zoo grounds, are unfortunately in serious decline as a resident in the UK, having suffered a loss of 69% in the last 30 years, probably mainly as a result of changes in agriculture, although it has probably also suffered from changes to the wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa. The current estimate may be as low as 44,000 pairs in the UK.

They are a species which loves warm, dry weather, so they are inevitably on the northern edge of their range in the UK. The population on mainland Europe is still large, although it is declining there as well, especially in Western Europe,

Turtle Doves are classic farmland and hedgerow birds in their strongholds of South East England. Their diet is mainly weed seeds in farmland, especially Fumitory, a plant which is strongly associated with their range. The nest, a typical flimsy pigeon nest, is built 1 – 3m above the ground, often in a Hawthorn bush. There are usually 2 eggs in the nest, and there can be 2 clutches each year.

The zoo population of Turtle Doves is monitored by Paignton Zoo in Devon. Turtle doves are fairly free breeders in captivity – a modest sized aviary and a diet of mixed small seeds are the main requirements. Currently ISIS lists the global captive population as 94, all in Europe, where they are mainly display animals – conservation efforts are mainly directed at the wild population rather than taking up valuable collection space with a captive breeding programme. There are a fair number in private hands in addition to the zoo population, but these are not monitored.

For more on Turtle Doves, and a couple of brief videos, visit the ARKive website here:

Backstage at Bristol we hold another species of Streptopelia, the Barbary or Ringneck dove, Streptopelia “risoria”. The specific name is in quotes, as no one is sure what it is exactly, except that it has been domesticated for over 2,000 years. It is probably a domesticated form of the African Collared Dove S.roseogrisea, with which it hybridizes, but it may be a form of the European Collared Dove. It is the dove used in magic acts, and we use them as foster parents for some of our tropical doves. Visitors won’t see them on show however.

(images from wikipedia)

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