European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur


Justification of Red List category
This species is listed as Vulnerable. It has undergone rapid declines in much of its European range, whilst in Russia and Central Asia it is thought to have experienced further severe declines. Declines are thought to be driven by a number of factors including loss of foraging and nesting sites as well as disease and hunting along its migration routes.

Population justification
The European population is estimated at 3,150,000-5,940,000 pairs, which equates to 6,310,000-11,900,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms 25-49% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 19,300,000-71,400,000 individuals. This roughly equates to 12,800,000-47,600,000 mature individuals. Further validation of this estimate is needed.

Trend justification
The population is suspected to be in decline owing to ongoing habitat destruction and unsustainable levels of exploitation. In Europe, the population size is estimated to be decreasing by 30-49% in 15.9 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015). In Europe, trends since 1980 show that populations have undergone a moderate decline, based on data from the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (EBCC/RSPB/BirdLife/Statistics Netherlands, P. Vorisek in litt. 2008). In Central Asia (Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), an analysis of observations of the species suggests that it has experienced a moderate or possibly strong decline over the past two to four decades (R. Ayé in litt. 2015). In Uzbekistan, the species has declined severely over the past thirty years (R. Kashkarov in litt. 2015). The formerly large population in European Russia has crashed by > 80% since 2000 and by > 90% since 1980 (BirdLife International 2015). Declines have also been reported from parts of east and south-east Kazakhstan; for example the species is now rare or even absent in the Manrak Mountains, where it was once common (Wassink and Oreel 2008).

Distribution and population

The species is a widespread migrant breeder across much of central and southern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, wintering mainly in the Sahel zone of Africa (Baptista et al. 2015). It has undergone large range declines in north-west Europe, including the Netherlands and the U.K. (e.g. Balmer et al. 2013), and the population continues to decrease throughout Europe (BirdLife International 2015).


The species uses a wide variety of woodland types, as well as steppe and semi-desert (Baptista et al. 2015), frequently relying on agricultural land for feeding (Tucker and Heath 1994). It may use hedges, borders of forest, groves, spinneys, coppices, young tree plantations, scrubby wasteland, woody marshes, scrub and garigue (Tucker and Heath 1994). It tolerates humans but does not breed close to towns or villages (Baptista et al. 2015). It generally breeds at low altitudes not exceeding 500 m in the temperate zone and up to 1,000-1,300 m in Mediterranean areas (Tucker and Heath 1994). Breeding commences in April and can last until September (J. Dunn in litt. 2016). It lays one to two eggs (Baptista et al. 2015, J. Dunn in litt. 2016). The nest is a small platform of twigs lined with plant material and placed in the lowest parts of trees (Tucker and Heath 1994) and in shrubs and hedges. A study in Morocco found that laying period can influence fledging success, with earlier nests producing more fledglings; within agricultural land, nests in olive orchards produced more fledglings than those in orange orchards (Hanane 2016). The species mainly feeds on the ground, taking seeds and fruits of weeds and cereals, but rarely also berries, fungi and invertebrates. It is strongly migratory (Baptista et al. 2015), wintering south of the Sahara from Senegal east to Eritrea and Ethiopia (Tucker and Heath 1994), where survival is strongly linked to cereal production (Eraud et al. 2009).


Transformation of agricultural land, including destruction of hedges and areas of scrub (J. Dunn in litt. 2016), is thought to be an important factor in the decline of this species as well as the loss of semi-natural habitats. Changes in agricultural practices have several impacts on the species, as they can reduce both food supply and nesting habitat availability, and it is likely that the decline in food is the main limiting factor rather than decline in nest site availability (Lutz 2006, Dunn and Morris 2012). Widespread use of chemical herbicides appears to also be a very serious factor, with a consequent decline or elimination of many food plants and an increased reliance upon cultivated grain (Browne and Aebischer 2003). Hunting is also significant during migration and in its wintering range, with a legal annual estimate in France computed at c. 40,000 birds (Baptista et al. 2015). There is believed to be an annual illegal hunting take of 0.6 million individuals across 27 Mediterranean countries (Brochet et al. 2016). The species is also vulnerable to infection by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae (Lennon et al. 2013) which can cause mortality (Stockdale et al. 2015). Severe drought in the Sahel zone is thought to be a possible factor in the decline (Eraud et al. 2009) as well as competition with Eurasian Collared-dove Streptopelia decaocto (Lutz 2006). A loss of suitable autumn stopping sites (field crops and trees around oases) may also have contributed to the population decline, as well as a change in tree composition, increased disturbance and an increase in the number of Common Myna Acridotheres tristis in cities where European Turtle-dove nested in Central Asia (R. Kashkarov in litt. 2015).

Conservation actions

Conservation and Research Actions Underway

CMS Appendix II. EU Birds Directive Annex II. In the U.K. it is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. A management plan for the species was published in 2006 (Lutz 2006). National-scale awareness, conservation and research programmes are now underway in some countries, e.g. Operation Turtle Dove in UK. In England, conservation actions, via a bespoke turtle dove species package in agri-environment schemes, are targeted at areas with recent turtle dove records (J. Dunn in litt. 2016). The International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the European Turtle-dove, Streptopelia turtur, was published in 2018.

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed

The International Single Species Action Plan for the Conservation of the European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur (2018) provides a comprehensive proposal of conservation and research actions needed to conserve this species across its natural range (Fisher et al. 2018). Determine population numbers in Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) and collate existing information on eastern populations, from the Middle East to Asia. Characterize the migration routes and movements in the wintering grounds. Conduct research into the threats facing the species, especially with regard to hunting and illegal killing. Manage habitats by ensuring adequate food and water provision, controlling chemical use and preventing wildfires. Encourage European Turtle-dove friendly farming systems to provide seed-rich foraging habitat (Dunn et al. 2015).


27-29 cm medium-sized dove. Forehead pale bluish grey, throat white, sides of face pinkish grey; lower throat and breast mauve-pink merging into white on belly and undertail-coverts; flanks pale grey; black, silver-tipped feathers, form a patch on side of neck giving impression of a patch of diagonal black and silver lines; mantle dark brown, often grey tinted, centre of each feather darker forming a scaled pattern; primaries, outer secondaries and primary-coverts blackish grey; lower back and rump drab tinged with blue-grey; uppertail-coverts greyish drab; underside of tail black and white; iris varying from golden yellow to light orange; orbital skin dark purplish blue; bill blackish often with purple tinge, paler toward tip; legs purplish red (Baptista et al. 2015). Female sometimes indistinguishable, sometimes a little paler and duller in colouration. Juvenile generally browner and duller. Voice Song a repeated phrase of two low-pitched purring coos.


Text account compilers
Ieronymidou, C., Butchart, S., Ashpole, J, Martin, R., Pople, R., Westrip, J., Burfield, I., Wheatley, H., Ekstrom, J., Wright, L, Elliott, N.

Ayé, R., Dunn, J., Kashkarov, R., Kashkov, R., Mitropolskiy, O., Morris, T., Perlman, Y., Raudonikis, L., Roth, T., Schweizer, M., Sorrenti, M., Vogrin, M. & Vorisek, P.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Streptopelia turtur. Downloaded from on 05/12/2023.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 05/12/2023.