• Chris Pendleton

Collared Doves - newcomers from the east

'Make love not war' must be the motto of collared dove as these gentle little birds often raise five or more families in a single year. And it’s a strategy that clearly works as they have multiplied spectacularly over the last seventy years, spreading across Europe from their ancestral home on the dusty plains of Turkey and Iraq.

They first nested in Britain in 1955 and by the mid 1960’s they had arrived in Warwickshire and were busily filching corn from our neighbour’s chicken run. I remember that even other birds were confused by these sociable newcomers and it was a common sight to see a starling or a sparrow chasing one, probably because of its fleeting resemblance to a sparrow hawk. Their insistent triple-note ‘coo’ became familiar, as did the male's strange wheezy flight-call.

Quite why collared doves began to spread from the Middle East isn’t clear, as their sandy colouring evolved for life there and is hardly effective in the more verdant landscapes of temperate Europe. The odd thing about this invasion is that these doves didn’t spread in a westerly direction into Italy and southern France, where you'd think the climate would be more amenable, but instead seemed to arrow north-west through Austria, Germany and Holland towards the UK. At first they formed colonies near grain silos but soon learned to visit bird tables and are now common everywhere, particularly in suburban gardens although I believe their numbers have fallen a bit recently, perhaps due to competition from that other recent garden invader, the woodpigeon

A few collared doves were released in the Bahamas and they soon thrived and, as in Europe, are now busily colonizing North America at the same break-neck speed.

Although collared doves are fecund creatures and have plenty of children, they are careless parents and often nest in ridiculous places. One year a pair began to build their flimsy little platform of twigs and roots in the gutter of our conservatory only to see it completely washed away in an April deluge. Undeterred, they started again, this time with a nest precariously balanced on an outside wall light, and a few weeks later two scruffy youngsters flopped onto the lawn.

Collared doves are such avid breeders that they often start building another nest before their previous brood has fledged and I’m pretty sure this pair had begun another nest in a hedge at the same time. When the eggs hatch the parents discard the broken white eggshells on the ground nearby.

Although it is sometimes seen as pest for stealing grain, the collared dove like the introduced little owl, does seem to have found an unoccupied ecological niche so I think we should welcome this friendly little dove which has now become such a familiar part of our natural world.

(First published in Four Shires Magazine)

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