After 20 days of flapping flight, covering over 5,000 kilometres, our magnificent turtle-dove has reached its wintering grounds in Niger, a landlocked country in the Sahara region. Many turtle-doves spend theirs winter in small oases or in riverine habitats, for instance along the Niger river. During their wintering period, these birds highly depend on the local production of cereal to feed.
In their breeding range, all over Europe to the north, this little bird struggles more and more to find suitable habitats to spend the summer and raise its young. Intensive agriculture practices are wiping out the hedgerows and fallow lands, rich in weeds and seeds, that the European turtle-dove needs to survive.
In the 1970s, flocks of more than a million turtle-doves could occasionally be observed in the African Sahel, looking for a place that provided food, water and cover in the form of trees. Large gatherings were common in rice fields, where these doves would pick out weeds or eat leftover rice after harvesting. Counts of hundreds of thousands of birds were no rarity. Today, counts at the same locations rarely render more than a hundred individuals. The steep decline of the species, both in Europe and Africa, is due to a variety of factors that affect these birds throughout the year. The intensification of agriculture in their breeding grounds in Europe, and also at their wintering grounds in Africa, form the biggest threat. In some places, these birds are legally hunted, but to an unsustainable level, which also affects population numbers. To top it off, thousands of turtle-doves are illegally shot when they migrate.
The IUCN Red List now classifies the European turtle-dove as ‘vulnerable’. Sadly, European populations have plummeted by 30-49% only in the last 16 years. In several countries, numbers have collapsed by 90%. Yet, inexplicably, many European countries still allow these birds to be targeted during their hunting seasons.
Together with our partners, BirdLife continues to work to put an end towards the habitat destruction of these birds, and to keep their flyways safe. This year, the European Union took legal action against France and Spain, two countries vital to the European population of the species, for failing to maintain adequate habitat grounds for the birds, and for continuing their hunting despite their decline. You can help us continue protecting this bird today.