Collared doves are one of the UK’s most common birds – there are about 2 million of them living here. But did you know that, 70 years ago you wouldn’t have seen any on our shores? That seems strange – they’re the 7th most common garden visitors and we take them for granted, but they are the new kids on the block.
The collared dove’s natural home, at least before the 19th Century, is in Asia. The farthest west they were ever seen was in Turkey. Then, in the mid-1800s they spread to Eastern Europe. The advance was slow but continual – by 1900 they had reached the Balkans, by the 1940s Germany and, 10 years later, they were in Western Europe.
The collared dove first arrived in Britain in the 1950s. There was only one nest at first, in Norfolk. It had to be constantly guarded because so many people wanted to see this exotic foreign visitor. But its rarity didn’t last for long – 20 years later they had spread to all parts of the British Isles, even as far north as the Shetland Isles!
So, what was it that caused the Western movement of the collared dove? The truth is that no-one really knows. They are sedentary birds and don’t migrate. The most likely reason for their advance is their undoubted success. You see, like so many other species, the collared dove has taken advantage of us humans. They feed mainly on seeds and cereals so arable farmland is a haven for them – you’re much more likely to see one in a field or a garden than you are in a forest. They’ve also spread to our towns and cities, eager to take advantage of the food we discard.
Such an abundance of food means that more young collared doves can be fed. This means that the population grows and, to avoid overcrowding, some of them must seek out new territory. It seems that this is probably what happened with the collared dove – once they discovered such an easy and available source of food they took advantage and their population flourished.
Collared doves are just one of over 300 species of pigeon – 5 of which live here in the UK. Many people regard them as vermin but I quite like them – they have a soothing (if monotonous!) call which I’m sure you’ll recognise. If you’d like to hear it, and find out more about them, then check out their RSPB page – it’s a mine of information!