DE­CLINE

Bird Watching (UK) - - Species Hobbies -

A lack of food dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son is blamed for fewer Tur­tle Dove nest­ing at­tempts slighter in build than other doves (they are the same length as a black­bird, but with wider wingspan). One of the ro­man­tic ap­peals of Tur­tle Doves, as well as their beauty, is that they form strong pair bonds. Euro­pean Tur­tle Doves are em­blems of de­voted love. In The Twelve Days of Christ­mas, the Tur­tle Dove is the gift ‘my true love gives to me’ on the sec­ond day. But the hu­mans who ap­par­ently so love them are de­stroy­ing their habi­tats. Tur­tle Doves feed on crop grains and wild­flower seeds, in­clud­ing but­ter­cup and chick­weed, but the weeds on which they de­pend, and es­pe­cially their favourite Fu­mi­tory (when did any of us last see ar­eas of Fu­mi­tory grow­ing wild, now our mead­ow­lands have dis­ap­peared un­der the plough?) are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly scarce be­cause of agro­chem­i­cals. Tur­tle Doves used to be seen along wood­land edges, in over­grown hedgerows or on open farm­land scat­tered with bushes, as I saw them that day in Mace­do­nia. Even large ru­ral gar­dens. No longer. They would have been com­mon in the English coun­try­side in Dorothy Wordsworth’s time. In The Gras­mere Jour­nals, in an en­try dated Jan­uary 1802, she re­lates the story of Bar­bara Wilkinson’s Tur­tle Dove with: “Bar­bara was an old maid. She had two Tur­tle Doves. One of them died the first year I think. The other bird con­tin­ued to live alone in its cage for nine years, but for one whole year it had a com­pan­ion and daily visitor, a lit­tle mouse that used to come and feed with it, and the Dove would ca­ress it, and cover it with its wings, and make a lov­ing noise to it. “The mouse though did not tes­tify equal de­light in the Dove’s com­pany yet it was at per­fect ease. The poor mouse dis­ap­peared and the Dove was left soli­tary un­til its death.” Rosa­mond Richard­son is an au­thor and jour­nal­ist who also writes for The Coun­try­man, and her Wait­ing for the Al­bino Dun­nock will be pub­lished in spring 2017

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