Dec 22 2012
“On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves…” – The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Why turtle doves?
Probably because they are symbols of love, as in The Song of Solomon.
Pictured above, European turtle doves (Streptopelia turtur) resemble North America’s mourning doves but are more slender and colorful. They breed in Europe and western Asia, spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa (see map).
Turtle doves used to be very plentiful but are now in serious decline in Europe. As of 2007, their population had decreased 62% since the early 1980′s. Scientists attribute this to changes in farm practices that eliminated the weeds and seeds these doves depend on for food, and the over-hunting of turtle doves in Mediterranean countries as the birds pass through on migration.
The decline in Europe is so severe that birders fear they are headed for extinction on the continent that immortalized them in a Christmas song.
Fortunately, turtle doves are not declining in western Asia so they won’t go extinct worldwide.
In the future turtle doves may be as mysterious a gift in Europe as they are to us.
(photo by Yuvalr via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)