The turring, purring turtle dove

I should perhaps have saved this bird for the Christmas edition given its pride of place in the “The Twelve Days of Christmas” the familiar gift accumulation song of 1780, thought to be French in origin that has the generous benefactor donating “two turtle doves” to their true love along with various leaping lords, pipers, milkmaids, drummers and of course a partridge in a pair tree.

I’m afraid I’ve only got one turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur) to give you anyway. This specimen had turned up on the day we visited RSPB Bemmpton Cliffs in June 2017 to see the puffins, gannets, guillemots, razorbills and others that live on the cliffs there. It was ground feeding among the jackdaws, chestnut-capped tree sparrows (Passer montanus), the more familiar, yet not native, collared doves, a pair of greenfinches (Chloris chloris), and a large brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) at the feeding stations close to the visitor centre.

The name of this bird comes from the Old English turtle, from the Latin turtur which is onomatopoeic given the bird’s purring call, trrr-trrr-trrrrr (as opposed to the more staccato coo-coo-coooh of the collared dove). The RSPB describes the turtle dove’s call as a “gentle purr…an evocative sound of summer”. However, it is not so often heard these days because of declining numbers, perhaps due to more efficient farming practices and a lack of seed and grain during its breeding season. As such, the species is on the Red List of conservation concern.

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