Establishing feeding habitat

Download Helping your local turtle doves for a handy guide that outlines how you can provide turtle doves with the habitats they need in the UK.

Turtle doves feed almost entirely on seeds on the ground. They need low plants and patches of open ground where they can find the seeds. It is essential that there is a suitable source of seeds available when the birds first arrive back from migration in order that they can get into breeding condition quickly. These measures should be established near to suitable turtle dove nesting habitat.

Turtle dove on wetland. Establishing feeding habitat
Photo: Turtle dove feeding habitat. Credit: Hayley New

You can help to provide vital seed-rich habitats in two ways:

  1. Plant a bespoke seed mix
  2. Allow plants to regenerate naturally

The following guidance is designed for options being delivered through the English Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CS) – available only to farmers. They can be adapted to situations outside CS.

Plant a bespoke seed mix
Sow a specially designed seed mix that will provide turtle doves with the right food plants. This will provide a source of food throughout the breeding season. The mix consists of early English vetch (25%), black medick (20%), birdsfoot trefoil (20%), early white clover (20%), early red clover (10%) and fumitory (5%). This mix is available from several seed merchants – contact your local Natural England or RSPB advisor to find out where to order the mix. If you are in an area with rare arable plant interest, then this option may not be suitable. Please consider option 2) below instead.

When and where to sow
Establish the mix in blocks or strips, approximately six metres wide, between 1 August and 15 October. Plots should be sown at approximately 12kg per hectare, but this may vary with soil type – consult your local advisor. It should be broadcast, not drilled. Once sown, the area should be rolled.

Maintenance
During the first year, you can top the plots to control the growth of problem weeds during establishment. Each following summers, between 15 June and 7 July, half of the plot should be cut or scarified to approximately 10-15cm on a rotational basis ie. do not cut the same area in successive years. The whole area should then be cut or scarified between 1 and 30 September and the cut vegetation removed so that patches of dead vegetation don’t become established. Mixes may need to be re-sown every two to three years. Successful establishment and maintenance of these plots can benefit from local advice.

This management option can be delivered under CS as a modified version of AB1, nectar flower mix.

Photo: Suitable foraging habitat for turtle doves, including areas of bare ground to allow the birds to find seeds. Credit: Leila Walker
Photo: Suitable foraging habitat for turtle doves, including areas of bare ground to allow the birds to find seeds. Credit: Leila Walker

Allow plants to regenerate naturally
Cultivate an area of land and allow plants to naturally grow up. The plants that grow up may provide seeds for turtle doves to feed on. This measure may also benefit rare arable plants that might be present in the seed bank and may establish once the soil is cultivated. This is particularly useful on lighter soils and is most beneficial for turtle doves if autumn cultivated as this then allows for plants to regenerate and set seed early the following summer. Even on heavy soils, it can be possible to use a two stage cultivation programme, incorporating an autumn cultivation followed by an application of a non-selective herbicide prior to a secondary cultivation completed in early spring, to deliver weed-rich habitat with minimal pernicious weed problems.

Establishment

  1. Cultivate the allocated area between 1 August and 1 November each year in order to produce a flush of autumn growth.
  2. Spray off the resultant weed growth by 15 February using a non-selective herbicide.
  3. Carry out a final cultivation to achieve a fine tilth by 15 March. This should produce spring germinating plants such as knotgrass, black bindweed, chickweed and fumitory.
  4. Do not disturb fallow areas until 31 August.

This management option can be delivered under CS as AB11, cultivated areas for arable plants.

Providing water for turtle doves
Ponds within 300m of suitable nesting habitat will provide turtle doves with a place to drink and bathe.

Ponds for turtle doves should have at least one gently sloping side that should be kept open to allow them to safely access the water.

If the local soil structure is not suitable for pond creation, then it is possible to provide other water sources, such as a shallow livestock drinking trough. Care must be taken to ensure this is safe for all wildlife and the water in the trough is changed periodically.

Options WN5 or 6 and WT4 and 5 provide for pond management under CS.

Photo: Pond with gently sloping side suitable for turtle doves. Credit: Leila Walker
Photo: Pond with gently sloping side suitable for turtle doves. Credit: Leila Walker

For information on Countryside Stewardship Scheme options visit https://www.gov.uk/countryside-stewardship-grants.

Fumaria_officinalis_Olivier Pichard. Establishing feeding habitat
Photo: Fumitory seeds are a favourite food plant of turtle doves. Credit: Olivier Pichard