Turtle Dove

Streptopelia turtur



The Turtle Dove has similar proportions to the Collared Dove but is smaller overall. The head is small, and the back and wings are chestnut-coloured with dark centres that give a scaly effect. There's a black and white patch on the neck, the head, underparts and neck are blue-grey,, and the breast has a slight pinkish tinge. The tail is long and dark with white edges that are clearer when the bird is flying. It has an orange fleshy patch around the eye which may be seen from close proximity, along with black and white barring on the neck. Juveniles resemble adults except they are duller and do not yet have any marks on the neck.


For breeding the Turtle Dove prefers woodland, agricultural land, parkland or dense hedges. Majority of feeding takes place on sown fields or similar areas.


Flies quickly and the wings have a stronger whirring effect than other pigeons. Male performs an aerial display where he takes off while fanning his tail; he gets higher at an acute angle, tapping his wings together, then he glides downwards to a perch. Usually seen in small groups, though numbers may be bigger during migration.


Diet includes seeds of wild plants and flowers, particularly fumitory, chickweed, buttercups, goosefoot, spurges and docks. Snails and caterpillars are eaten as well.


A clutch of (usually) 2 eggs is laid in May. Both parents incubate until the young hatch after about 13-14 days; the young are fed crop milk for the initial 5 days. They learn to fly at about 20 days old and soon gain independence. Sometimes two or three broods are raised each year.


This is a summer migrant that departs the region between July and September. Many birds pass through North Africa in September and October, making their way back to breeding territories in February and March and arriving in May. Populations are declining, but it's thought that there are approximately 14 000 territories in Britain.

Observation Tips

There are migration locations along the south and east coasts of England; these places are best visited in spring and autumn. To see the birds on breeding grounds, May to July is the best time, and Kent and East Anglia are key territories, particularly on low agricultural land.


Has a gentle call that is comparable to a cat's purr: 'cooo'.
Back to Bird Index