RSPB solves the migration mystery of UK’s fastest declining migrant bird

RSPB Media release

In a UK science first the RSPB reveal UK breeding turtle dove migration route


The migration route of a UK breeding turtle dove has, for the first time, been revealed by the RSPB today [Wednesday 24 June 2015] – providing valuable data in the conservation fight to help save the species from UK extinction.

Last July, the RSPB fitted a small, light-weight satellite tag to a turtle dove from Suffolk before it embarked on its mammoth migration journey. In a UK science first, the RSPB was able to track Titan, the tagged turtle dove, on his 5600km migration route from Suffolk to Mali, and back again, all in real time.

The turtle dove population has plummeted 96 per cent since 1970, making it the UK’s fastest declining migrant bird. This decline is so dramatic that the population is halving in number every six years; should it continue at this rate the species may be lost as a breeding bird in the UK within the next couple of decades.

Flying mostly under the cover of darkness, Titan flew across epic landscapes such as the Atlas Mountains, Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Cadiz. The satellite tag also uncovered that he travelled around 500-700km per night flying at a maximum speed of 60km per hour.

Dr John Mallord, RSPB Senior Conservation Scientist, said: “This is the first time that we have ever been able to track a UK-breeding turtle dove to its African wintering grounds. Previously we largely relied on ringing the birds, which didn’t give us half the amount of data Titan’s tag has. On top of his wintering grounds, we also have his migration route, where he stopped to rest and refuel and how long he spent in different places.

“Our aim now is to build on this new information, which will be used to help us to target our conservation efforts far more effectively on precisely those areas the birds are using when they leave the UK.”

Titan’s outbound journey to Africa, where he wintered for six months, took around a month to complete. On his return the avian jetsetter spent two weeks making his way through France, initially following the Atlantic coast, before leaving from Dunkirk and touching down in Suffolk. The latest satellite reading shows that Titan has returned to the same area he was first found and tagged in Suffolk.

RSPB scientists and partners at BirdLife hope to explore the key habitats, land use and food resources throughout the migration route in order to understand the reasons behind the alarming decline. The research will help plan and implement conservation actions on a local and international scale to help save turtle doves from UK extinction.

John continued: “This winter we will be returning to Senegal, an important wintering area for turtle doves, and a staging area for Titan on his way to Mali, to explore the reasons why they might be declining at such an alarming rate. There are many factors on the wintering grounds that could play a part in the alarming decline of turtle doves such as; a lack of reliable water sources, scarce food resources and limited suitable roosting sites. We plan to investigate all possible reasons.

“Historically, hundreds of thousands of turtle doves have wintered in Senegal, although there are suggestions that these numbers are lower nowadays, therefore it is vital that we focus our conservation efforts on wintering sites such as these to get a better understanding of the reason why they are declining and eventually put measures in place to help a recovery.”

For more information on Titan’s journey and how the RSPB and Operation Turtle Dove partners are helping to stop turtle dove declines visit:


2 comments to RSPB solves the migration mystery of UK’s fastest declining migrant bird

  • years ago there was a study in the UK about turtle doves and why they was in decline,they found out one bird was the cause it was the magpie, they was causing 40% NEST failure it is what happens in the uk that counts if they are not allowed to breed in peace can you wonder they are in big decline the magpie as increased a lot since the study so the turtle dove will soon be gone like the RSPB SAID,in 90 farms in cornwall they found only a couple of pairs, they said give nature a home and they will come.

  • Wing tags have been used on many birds species to facilitate individual recognition,although tags are not only conspicuous for humans but may also attract the attention of predators.During a peregrine falcon monitoring program(1997-2011)collected prey remains from the nest of 37 peregrine falcon territories in the basque country.northern Spain. they identified 3.127 prey species,in the 2009 breeding season. they found.Montagu’s harriers and some hen-harriers remains some had coloured wing tags. one years later they found eight more Montagu’s remains and some wing tags in the same nest. and the same 2011, wing tags could be attacting predators.standing out from the crowd,