Wildlife Column: The rise and call of the collared dove

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Although in recent years the collared dove may have declined a little, it is still doing pretty well. They recently reappeared in my garden at Norton after being absent for a couple of years.

I suspect the huge increase in woodpigeons may have had something to do with the slight decline. The latter are one of the big success stories of recent years and they are bigger and heavier by far than the sleek and elegant collared dove. Woodies do hoover up the birdseed and perhaps compete for nesting space too. Anyway, my collared doves are back, though the summer-visiting turtle doves that I expect every year down the Moss Valley have long-since departed. Their loss is particularly sad as they are an especially attractive addition to our avifauna; and it is down to a mix of climate change (probably) and intensive farming (definitely).

Yet, as the turtle dove declined so the collared dove colonised. Until the twentieth century they were native to warm temperate and subtropical Asia (known from Turkey east to southern China, and south through India to Sri Lanka), but during the middle decades they increased their range dramatically. In the latter half of the century the species spread across Europe to colder countries in Western Europe and the British Isles where it has become a permanent resident. It has even been introduced to North America where it is now an ‘invasive alien’. Collared doves are none migratory but strongly ‘dispersive’; which means they move out to new areas. This great coloniser had reached Bulgaria by 1838, but it was only during the twentieth century that the major expansion took place; the Balkans between 1900 and 1920, then rapidly northwest to reach Germany by 1945, and Great Britain by 1953. The first British breeding was in 1956, and it had colonised Ireland in 1959 and the Faroe Islands by the early 1970s. I recall them being a Sheffield rarity in the 1960s.

Surprisingly, nobody has worked out quite why all this happened! The call is a soft ‘cooo-COOO-cooo’ and in spring is sometimes mistaken for early arriving cuckoos. Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.