Titan the turtle dove helps scientists with fight to stop its decline

Turtle dove Streptopelia turtur, pair perched on a roof. Picture: Andy Hay

Turtle dove Streptopelia turtur, pair perched on a roof. Picture: Andy Hay


An avian jetsetter from Suffolk has helped scientists shed light on the migration mystery surrounding the UK’s fastest declining bird.

The turtle dove population has plummeted 96pc since 1970, making it the UK’s fastest declining migrant bird.

The dramatic drop means the population is halving in number every six years - a rate which could see it lost as a breeding bird in the UK within the next couple of decades.

One cause of the decline is thought to be lack of seed and grain as food during the breeding season, resulting in a much shorter breeder season with fewer nesting attempts.

East Anglia supports almost two-thirds of the current breeding population.

Much of Operation Turtle Dove, a conservation project, is based in the eastern region.

Turtle dove Titan was fitted with a tracking device just south of Sizewell, in Suffolk, last August, ahead of his mammoth migration route to Mali, in west Africa.

And, for the first time, the satellite tag has allowed the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to reveal details about the 5,600km route, helping the conservation fight to save the rapidly declining species from extinction in the UK.

Flying mostly under the cover of darkness, Titan passed landscapes including the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Cadiz, with his outbound journey to Africa taking about a month.

On his return journey, the turtle dove spent two weeks making his way through France, initially following the Atlantic coast, before leaving from Dunkirk and returning to Suffolk at the end of April.

A turtle dove being fitted with a tracker.A turtle dove being fitted with a tracker.

Sam Lee, Operation Turtle Dove farm conservation adviser, said: “We are delighted to hear that Titan has returned to Suffolk and made history in allowing us to track his progress.

“As one of the turtle dove’s last remaining breeding areas in the UK, Eastern England has become an important focus for conservation efforts.

“A major part of this is our work with farmers to establish measures to encourage wildlife such as the planting and management of ‘turtle dove seed 

This can help to address the shortage of food plants which is one of the drivers of the turtle dove’s decline in the UK.”

The tag showed that Titan travelled about 500 to 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.

“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.”

For more information on Titan’s journey visit

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