Streptopelia turturEuropean turtle dove(Also: European turtle-dove)

Geographic Range

European turtle doves are native to the Palearctic and Ethiopian regions. During the breeding season, the range of European turtle doves (Streptopelia turtur) includes most of Europe, Asia, and Africa. European turtle doves are palearctic and Ethiopian. They range as far north as Arkhangelsk, Russia and about as far south as Iran and Turkey, with small populations inhabiting Saudi Arabia. Their range continues as far west as Spain and France and about as far east as Urumqi, China. They also reside in parts of northern coastal Africa, with individuals inhabiting the Western Sahara territory, Morocco, and Tunisia. A disjunct population also occurs in Nigeria.

During the non-breeding season, European turtle doves reside in parts of middle and central Africa, just north of the equator. They inhabit areas as far south as Awasa, Ethiopia and Karaga, Ghana and as far north as Port Sudan, Sudan. They range as far west as Senegal and The Gambia and as far east as Asmara, Eritrea and Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.

Those turtle doves originating in Europe and western Asia tend to follow a looping migratory pattern. They mainly migrate to a region encompassing southeast Mauritania, western Mali, and the inner Niger delta. Likewise, they also use spring stopover sites located in northern Algeria and Morocco prior to traveling back north. (Browne, et al., 2005; De Vries, et al., 2021; Gutierrez-Galan, et al., 2019; Lormee, et al., 2016; Mansouri, et al., 2021; Marx, et al., 2020; Marx, et al., 2016)


European turtle doves are mainly found in warm and temperate climates with an average altitude of about 500 m during non-breeding seasons. They tend to nest in places with an average temperature between 9 and 29 °C, and very hot (usually above 35 °C) locations in the summer. In northern Europe, they tend to breed at altitudes below 350 m. However, further south in Europe and Africa, they breed in temperate regions over 500 m above sea level (up to about 1,300 meters). Lowest elevation recorded was 200 m.

European turtle doves depend on forest steppes in Eurasia - a grassland habitat with scattered forest tracts throughout (similar to a savannah in other ecoregions). They inhabit orchards, cropland, forest edges, woodland, and hedgerows. Gutierrez-Galan et al. (2019) found that they use sites at an average distance of 475 m from water.

Browne et al. (2005) examined nest placement for these doves and reported they nested in thorny trees in shrub thickets, where the average height of the nests was 2.27 ± 0.02 m. Less commonly, they inhabit woodlands and hedgerows. In this study, coniferous plantations were recorded with the least amount of dove use. (Alonso and Gutiérrez-Galán, 2016; Browne, et al., 2005; Browne and Aebischer, 2003a; Gutierrez-Galan, et al., 2019; Hanane, 2016; Lormee, et al., 2016; Mansouri, et al., 2018; Mansouri, et al., 2020; Mansouri, et al., 2021; Marx, et al., 2020; Marx, et al., 2016; Saâd, et al., 2020)

  • Range elevation
    200 to 1300 m
    656.17 to 4265.09 ft
  • Average elevation
    400 m
    1312.34 ft

Physical Description

Adult European turtle doves have a body length ranging from 27-29 cm and a wingspan ranging from 47-53cm. Their mass ranges from 99-170 g. Weights and sizes are alike between sexes.

Adults have greyish-brown scaled mantles and lower backs that are tinted blue-grey. The flight feathers are dark grey to blackish in color and have a thin white border. The upper neck is white on the underparts, while the lower section and breast are mauve-pink and fade into a white belly and undertail. Their flanks are usually pale grey, underwings bluish-grey, and undertails black and white. European turtle doves have a pale bluish-grey forehead that is darker in the crown, nape and hind neck. The sides of their face are often a pinkish-grey with black and white lines on the rear neck. The eyes of European turtle doves are light orange/yellow with broad, dark pinkish rings. Their bills are often black with a purple tinge, and get paler toward the tip. Their legs and feet are pinkish with clear or black nails.

In feather color comparisons, females are sometimes slightly paler and duller than males. The females' head may appear more grey and the breast more drab. The edges of their wings may also appear reddish.

Juvenile European turtle doves are browner and duller than adults and possess buff-tipped feathers. They also lack the black and white patch on the side of their necks. Juvenile males tend to have more of a red tinge than females. (Baptista, et al., 2020; Brahmia, et al., 2015; Mansouri, et al., 2020)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    99 to 170 g
    3.49 to 5.99 oz
  • Range length
    27 to 29 cm
    10.63 to 11.42 in
  • Range wingspan
    47 to 53 cm
    18.50 to 20.87 in


European turtle doves are monogamous and can form long-term relationships. Some partnerships form during migration, but it appears that in the majority of instances, the males arrive first and swiftly draw females to the breeding grounds.

Mansouri et al. (2020) found that during courting displays, males make visual expressions called arc-flights; when males glide back in a wide arc with their wings extended forwards and their tails fanned out. This is coupled with a wooing call followed by a gentle purr that males use to attract females. However, in order to assure mate attractiveness, the presence of competitors in the same field increases the pace of singing and flying. The intensity of courtship was found to be extremely high, primarily in the months of May, June, and July. These months (May, June, and July) coincide with European turtle doves' peak nesting season in North Africa.

For the nest, the males collect materials such as small twigs, lined with grass stalks, roots, and leaves for the females to use to build. These nests are usually made in trees, shrubs, or hedges. European turtle doves are even known to use the old nests of passerines on occasion. (Baptista, et al., 2020; Browne, et al., 2005; Browne and Aebischer, 2003a; Browne and Aebischer, 2005; Mansouri, et al., 2020; Saâd, et al., 2020)

European turtle doves breed up to three times a year from late April to early August. They have peak egg-laying activity in the second half of May and the first half of July. Browne and Aebischer (2005) reported that clutch sizes average 2 eggs (range 1-3). They may have up to three successful broods in a season, but if a brood is lost and a replacement clutch is deposited, they may nest more than three times. Eggs hatch in 14 to 20 days. European turtle doves fledge at about 12 days post-hatching. Nestlings are independent after 15 days. Both male and female European turtle doves reach sexual maturity around 2 years of age. (Brahmia, et al., 2015; Browne, et al., 2005; Browne and Aebischer, 2003a; Browne and Aebischer, 2005; De Vries, et al., 2021; Gutierrez-Galan, et al., 2019; Hanane, 2016; Mansouri, et al., 2018; Mansouri, et al., 2020; Saâd, et al., 2020)

  • Breeding interval
    Turtle doves breed up to three times a year
  • Breeding season
    April to August
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 3
  • Range time to hatching
    14 to 20 days
  • Average fledging age
    12 days
  • Average time to independence
    15 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

Both male and female European turtle doves participate in breeding tasks, such as constructing nests, incubating eggs, and caring for the young. Female European turtle doves lay one to three eggs between May and July. Both parents participate in incubation, which lasts approximately 14 to 20 days. After hatching, both parents produce crop milk, an antioxidant-rich liquid secreted in their throats. Nestlings require more food as they grow, forcing both parents to raise foraging rates to meet the needs of the young. European turtle dove nestlings leave after approximately 15 days, once they have fledged and can fly and find food on their own. If a predator approaches, adult European turtle doves may conduct the "broken-wing" display to lure them away from the nest and the young. (Browne, et al., 2005; Mansouri, et al., 2021; Saâd, et al., 2020)

  • Parental Investment
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


The maximum longevity of European turtle doves in the wild is 13.2 years. However this is only a minimum estimation, as the oldest turtle dove recorded was shot before it could reach its natural longevity. Turtle doves are not normally kept in captivity. (Brahmia, et al., 2015; Euring, 2017; Mansouri, et al., 2021; Marx, et al., 2016)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    13.2 (low) years


Despite eating primarily on the ground, European turtle doves are mostly arboreal. They are diurnal and mostly fly and collect food during the day. On the breeding grounds, they are normally solitary or in pairs, but with sufficient food sources, large flocks can form.

Outside of the mating season, this species is social, and colonies of thousands may be observed at watering sources throughout Africa. European turtle doves communicate through audio and visual cues, and are even known for their gentle purr. They sing in trees, as height above the ground facilitates calls being detected by others. If a predator approaches, adult European turtle doves may conduct the "broken-wing" display to lure them away from the nest and the young.

During the breeding season, their range includes most of Europe and Asia and they tend to follow a looping migratory pattern. This migration usually occurs at night and some partnerships even form during migration.

Nests are usually small platforms of thin sticks with a soft inner lining gathered by the male and built by the female. Browne and Aebischer (2005) found that both parents participate in breeding duties, such as nest-building, incubation, and nestling care, albeit the males appear to do more of these tasks than the females. Due to availability of suitable food and shelter, dry croplands were avoided while forested habitats were utilized more often. (Baptista, et al., 2020; Brahmia, et al., 2015; Browne, et al., 2005; Browne and Aebischer, 2003a; Browne and Aebischer, 2003b; Gutierrez-Galan, et al., 2019; Lormee, et al., 2016; Mansouri, et al., 2018; Mansouri, et al., 2020; Marx, et al., 2020; Saâd, et al., 2020)

Home Range

European turtle doves occupy relatively large home ranges (varying greatly depending on habitat availability), spanning from 0.3 ha to 1,130 ha. They are reported to defend territories from 1.91 ha to 3.08 ha, but these numbers seem biologically unreasonable for doves to defend; these are likely reported home ranges. European turtle doves not only utilize different habitats for feeding, but also undertake relatively large foraging trips.

Some may be forced to travel vast distances between breeding and feeding regions, with the spatial and temporal availability of food during the breeding season being the greatest indication. Browne and Aebischer (2005) reported that on average, European turtle doves travelled 0.5-1.5 km per trip, but some feeding sites were located up to 10 km from the nest. (Browne and Aebischer, 2003b; Gutierrez-Galan, et al., 2019; Lormee, et al., 2016; Marx, et al., 2016)

Communication and Perception

European turtle doves communicate via acoustic and visual means. The call of European turtle doves is described as a gentle purr. Baptista et al. (2020) describe the call as low-pitched but monotone coos, “rrrrhooo....rrrhooo.” They add that a short, middle note can be included so it is described as “rrrhooo..rrh..rrrhooo”.

Males in particular use visual and acoustic cues during courtship. They produce distinct call segments that specify their good physical condition and sexual motivation. While bobbing their heads, they produce a rapid coo, which can make a popping sound when stimulated. Mansouri et al. (2020) specified two types of communication in turtle dove’s courtship display: "arc-shaped" flights and vocal cues.

Mansouri et al. (2020) found that European turtle doves more often sing in trees rather than on the ground. This gives a vertical assist for intricate frequencies and amplitudes to extend male calls towards females. Both sexes tend to focus their vocalizations and flights between 0800-1000 hours and 1600-1800 hours. These calls can be gentle and calming, or loud and persistent. (Baptista, et al., 2020; Mansouri, et al., 2020; Saâd, et al., 2020)

Food Habits

Forest steppes can be important foraging habitats for many granivorous species, including turtle doves. Gutiérrez-Galán et al. (2019) found that in locales where croplands with concentrations of food items are absent, doves consume non-crop seeds over a radius of several kilometers. Those nesting in forests close to cultivated land can also eat cultivated and non-cultivated seeds found in these areas.

Mansouri et al. (2019) conducted a diet analysis which showed that soft wheat (Triticum aestivum) and barley seeds (Hordeum vulgare) accounted for 44.53% and 38.74% of diet, respectively. However, a small portion (7.32%) ofelements remained unspecified. Alonso and Gutiérrez-Galán (2016) found that adults showed a more diverse range of wild seed consumption than juveniles. The rest of the plant material identified in the diet consisted of different types of cultivated seeds, mainly corn (Zea mays), wheat, vetch (Vicia sativa), barley and sunflower (Helianthus annuus). (Alonso and Gutiérrez-Galán, 2016; Browne and Aebischer, 2003b; Browne and Aebischer, 2003a; De Vries, et al., 2021; Gutierrez-Galan, et al., 2019; Lormee, et al., 2016; Mansouri, et al., 2018)

  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Brahmia et al. (2015) found that nests of European turtle doves at the furthest reaches of the canopy are more vulnerable to avian predators such as common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), little owls (Athene noctua), and woodchat shrikes (Lanius senator). Nests that are too near to the trunk, on the other hand, are vulnerable to predators that live on the ground such as horseshoe snakes (Hemorrhois hippocrepis). Humans (Homo sapiens) are also predators; hunting for European turtle doves occurs both during migrations and on wintering grounds.

Adult European turtle doves will conduct the "broken-wing" display in front of predators approaching the nest, attempting to lure the intruder away from the nest-site. This is when adults at the nest walk away from it with twitching wings in order to appear as an easy prey. They lure them away from the young, and once far enough away will end the distraction and escape back to the nest. (Alonso and Gutiérrez-Galán, 2016; Brahmia, et al., 2015; Browne and Aebischer, 2003b; De Vries, et al., 2021; Hanane, 2016; Lormee, et al., 2016; Mansouri, et al., 2018; Mansouri, et al., 2021; Marx, et al., 2020; Marx, et al., 2016)

Ecosystem Roles

European turtle doves are herbivores, eating mainly seeds, grains, nuts, and fruits. Typical predators may include snakes and other birds.

De Vries et al. (2021) reported that 95% of European turtle doves in the UK were infected by an excavatan parasite (Trichomonas gallinae). This parasite is passed through courtship feeding, shared food sources and feeding of crop milk from parents to offspring. Martínez-Herrero et al. (2017) found a presumably undescribed species of Trichomonas in European turtle doves; it was grouped with but genetically distinct from Trichomonas tenax and Trichomonas canistomae. Additional internal parasites include alveolates (Haemoproteus turtur), cestodes (Raillietina) and nematodes (Heterakis gallinarum, Ascaridia columbae). (Alonso and Gutiérrez-Galán, 2016; Bogach, 2021; De Vries, et al., 2021; Mansouri, et al., 2021; Martínez-Herrero, et al., 2017; Marx, et al., 2016; Rashdan, 1998; Saâd, et al., 2020)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • excavata (Trichomonas gallinae)
  • undescribed excavata (Trichomonas)
  • alveolates (Haemoproteus turtur)
  • cestodes (Raillietina)
  • nematodes (Heterakis gallinarum)
  • nematodes (Ascaridia columbae)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

De Vries et al. (2021) reported that each year 2-4 million European turtle doves are hunted and killed for their meat. Poaching also occurs, where European turtle doves are killed and sold illegally for a profit. (Alonso and Gutiérrez-Galán, 2016; De Vries, et al., 2021; Marx, et al., 2016)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

European turtle doves can be carriers of several diseases and parasites that can affect humans, animals, and livestock. They are known to carry avian chlamydiosis (Chlamydia psittaci) and coccidiosis. Avian chlamydiosis can be transmitted through inhaling dust containing feathers or droppings, while coccidiosis can be transmitted through feces or ingestion of tissue.

They can also be referred to as a pest by some farmers, as they can destroy entire crops in one night by feeding and nesting. (De Vries, et al., 2021; Marx, et al., 2016)

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List ranks European turtle doves as being "Vulnerable." The US Migratory Bird Act, US Federal List, CITES, and State of Michigan List report no special status for them. European turtle doves are also recognized as a Red List species of conservation concern in the UK and are a Category 3 Species of European Conservation Concern.

European turtle doves were not deemed a worldwide conservation concern until 2015, when global declines prompted a Vulnerable uplisting. Primary threats include loss of foraging and nesting sights (due to deforestation), disease, hunting and poaching, and the use of herbicides.

European turtle dove populations have plummeted across Europe in recent decades. De Vries et al. (2021) reported that Northern and Western Europe have had the greatest reductions. Between 1967 and 2015, populations in the United Kingdom fell by 97 percent, and between 1984 and 2015, the populations in the Netherlands fell by more than 90 percent, with the fall becoming more severe in the latter ten years. In eastern and southern Europe, doves experienced a 37 percent drop from 1996 to 2018 in Spain, and a 54 percent drop from 1998 to 2015 in Austria.

The decline is so alarming that the UK government has added European turtle doves to a list of priority species under consideration by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, with the goal of identifying the causes of the recent decline and developing a recovery plan. Furthermore, the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has been covered by a new Public Service Agreement (PSA) since 2001. One of DEFRA's PSAs aims is to restore farmland birds, especially those hardest hit, like European turtle doves.

Conservation efforts include recreating appropriate hedgerows and pockets of forest or scrub to counteract the loss of European turtle dove nesting habitat. Operation Turtle Dove was also formed as a conservation effort. Working with farmers and landowners, this NGO-sponsored project seeks to improve population numbers by adding research studies throughout their migratory paths and improving feeding sites across their key breeding territories. (Alonso and Gutiérrez-Galán, 2016; Browne, et al., 2005; Browne and Aebischer, 2003b; De Vries, et al., 2021; Gutierrez-Galan, et al., 2019; Lormee, et al., 2016; Marx, et al., 2020; Marx, et al., 2016)


Brielle Smith (author), Radford University, Sierra Felty (editor), Radford University, Bianca Plowman (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Victoria Raulerson (editor), Radford University, Christopher Wozniak (editor), Radford University, Genevieve Barnett (editor), Colorado State University.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

causes disease in humans

an animal which directly causes disease in humans. For example, diseases caused by infection of filarial nematodes (elephantiasis and river blindness).


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


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Bogach, M. 2021. Parasites of domestic and wild pigeons in the south of Ukraine. Biosystems Diversity, 29/2: 135-139.

Brahmia, H., A. Zeraoula, T. Bensouilah, Z. Bouslama, M. Houhamdi. 2015. Breeding biology of sympatric laughing Streptopelia senegalensis and turtle Streptopelia turtur dove: A comparative study in northeast Algeria. Zoology and Ecology, 25/3: 220-226.

Browne, S., N. Aebischer. 2003. Temporal changes in the migration phenology of turtle doves Streptopelia turtur in Britain, based on sightings from coastal bird observatories. Journal of Avian Biology, 34/1: 65-71.

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Hanane, S. 2016. Effects of location, orchard type, laying period and nest position on the reproductive performance of turtle doves (Streptopelia turtur) on intensively cultivated farmland. Avian Research, 7: Article 4. Accessed January 25, 2022 at

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Mansouri, I., W. Squalli, A. El Agy, A. El-Hassani, L. El Ghadraoui, M. Dakki. 2021. Comparison of nesting features and breeding success of turtle dove Streptopelia turtur between orchards and riparian habitats. International Journal of Zoology, 2021/2: Article ID 5566398. Accessed January 25, 2022 at

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Rashdan, N. 1998. Role of Pseudolynchia canariensis in the transmission of Haemoproteus turtur from the migrant Streptopelia turtur to new bird hosts in Egypt. Journal of the Egyptian Society of Parasitology, 28/1: 221-228.

Saâd, N., S. Hanane, K. Farhi, M. Dhaya El Hak Khemis. 2020. Nest age as predictor of survival in three sympatric dove species breeding in a Mediterranean arid agroecosystem. Ardea, 108/2: 171-182.