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Turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur)

This striking bird is in serious danger of disappearing from the UK.

Common name: turtle dove

Scientific name: Streptopelia turtur

Family: Columbidae (doves and pigeons)


Head: A greyish cap and black and white barring on the neck 

Wings: The turtle dove's wings earned the species its name, with the black and brown plumage reminiscent of a turtle's shell.

Body: This attractive species has a greyish rump and pinkish breast. There is a narrow white tip at the end of a black tail.

Not to be confused with

The collared dove is slightly larger and has a generally plainer appearance, lacking the distinctive turtle-shell pattern on the wings.

Where to spot

Summer migrants, turtle doves arrive in late April and May and occupy farmland and open woodland in the south and east of England. After breeding, they fly south to warmer climes from late August to September.

Turtle doves have suffered a drastic decline in the UK, with an estimated population drop of 98% since 1970. There are serious concerns the species could soon disappear from the country entirely. Factors behind this decline are thought to include changes in agricultural practices limiting food availability and hunting as the birds cross the Mediterranean on migration.


The seeds of cereals and weeds make up the majority of the species’ diet.


Turtle doves are monogamous and pair for life. A clutch of two white eggs is laid, mostly in May and June, in a flimsy nest of twigs well hidden in scrub or thorny hedgerows. The male bird helps the female to incubate the eggs, which hatch after around two weeks, with the chicks fledging up to three weeks later.


  • The species' song is a distinctive soft purr.
  • The only migratory dove in Europe, turtle doves winter in west Africa, gathering in massive roosts of up to one million birds.
  • Turtle doves are shot in huge numbers on migration in countries bordering the Mediterranean. It is estimated that as many as two to four million are shot and trapped as they pass through.

Join Nature’s Calendar

Help us track the effects of weather and climate change on wildlife. Let us know when you first see turtle doves arrive in the UK.

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