The number of turtle doves breeding in the UK has declined dramatically in recent years, so it’s likely that if people haven’t heard the unmistakable purring call in your area, they are absent. Nevertheless, to investigate presence, your cluster members can do a one-off morning ‘census’ in your cluster area, which aims to survey prime nesting habitat. Surveying en-masse is a good way to get everyone in the cluster motivated, and also eliminates some of the inconsistencies of surveying on different days. You could even hold a social breakfast afterwards!

Turtle doves like to nest in tall, wide and dense shrubs and hedges, often entwined with climbing plants or crowns of ivy. They will also nest in thick conifer belts and hedges.

  1. Survey in June when the doves have returned from their wintering quarters and established breeding territories, because males then call regularly.
  2. Agree a set date and time in the morning with all cluster members. The best time for a survey is during the two hours after sunrise (calling is much less frequent thereafter). If the chosen date turns out to be windy or wet, rearrange the census.
  3. Every farm should be represented, because as much of the area should be counted as possible at the same time.
  4. On the morning of the count, each person should position themselves at a pre-identified survey location that appears suitable for nesting. If a suitable area is a boundary between two farms, agree in advance which landowner will listen at that location, freeing one up to listen elsewhere.
  5. Spend a pre-agreed amount of time (half an hour is recommended) listening for the purring call and scanning with binoculars.
  6. Make a record of breeding locations for that year, and repeat annually.
  7. If there is a substantial amount of suitable habitat on the farm, try and recruit some more pairs of ears, or go out the next morning to listen elsewhere.

If you have a shallow pond or a supplementary feeding site near suitable nesting habitat, you can also set up trail cameras and monitor their usage by turtle doves.

Trail camera image of turtle dove using a new pond © Jess Brooks