I have had a pair of collared doves visit my garden in recent weeks, but these are the first for a good while. The collared dove is of course a ‘new kid on the block’ in Britain, and they first arrived in Sheffield in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then they have spread far and wide.
However, in recent years their numbers seem to have dropped a bit and as garden visitors they seem less frequent. I can’t help feeling that this has something to do with the numbers of wood pigeons or ‘woodies’; a species whose numbers have soared over the last few decades and are now amongst the commonest garden visitors. There are now well over ten million woodies in Britain, (with maybe three to four million breeding pairs), and whilst some sources describe them as ‘sedentary’ with most birds breeding and living close to their birth-place, I suspect this misses the fact that huge numbers do pass through and probably from Europe. Throughout the autumn into winter we see large flocks of wood pigeons undertaking what is called ‘visible migration’ and heading roughly north-east to south-west over the southern Pennines at between five hundred and a thousand feet.
The resident birds are now amongst our most common feeders at the bird table, and described by some sources as ‘big and dumpy’. Their appetites are famously prodigious and when they arrive en masse, I do wonder if it is all too much for the altogether more delicate collared doves. Certainly my pigeons and have gone up and my doves have gone down – which is not necessarily cause and effect, but it may be. The pigeons have also become more adventurous in their eating habitats and will even try to feed from hanging seed feeders.
The results can be amusing as these are not the most dexterous of birds, but nevertheless, what they lack in elegance, they more than make up for in tenacity. The collared dove on the other hand is all about elegance and contrasts sharply with the beautifully marked but lumbering wood pigeon.
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.