Establishing feeding habitat

Turtle Doves are obligate granivores – that is, they only eat seeds. These are sourced on the ground, so it is essential that there is plenty of open ground – 30 to 50% in which the birds can forage around. It is also essential that there is suitable source of seeds available when the birds first arrive back from migration in order that they can get into breeding condition quickly.

Turtle dove on wetland. Establishing feeding habitat
Turtle dove feeding habitat. Image: Hayley New

Suitable seed rich habitat can be provided in one of two ways. Firstly a “bespoke” seed mix can be established.  This consists of early English vetch (25%), black medick (20%), birdsfoot trefoil (20%), early white clover (20%), early red clover (10%), and fumitory (5%).  This should be established in blocks or strips, approximately 6 metres in width between 1st August and 15th October. The seed should be sown at the rate of 10kg per hectare for light soils or 15kg for heavier soils and it should be broadcast, not drilled.  Once sown, the area should be rolled.  During the following summer, between 15th June and 7th July, half of the plot should be cut or scarified on a rotational basis i.e. do not cut the same area in successive years.  The whole area should then be cut or scarified between 1st and 30th September ands the arising removed in order to avoid patches of dead vegetation becoming established. This management option can be delivered under CSS as a modified version of AB1, nectar and flower mix.

An alternative to option AB1 is AB11, cultivated areas and margins 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 .  The procedure for establishing AB11 follows the following stages.

Stage 1 – cultivate the allocated area between 1 August and 1st November each year in order to produce a flush of autumn germinating weeds such as blackgrass.

Stage 2 – spray off the resultant weed growth by 15th February using a non-selective herbicide.

Stage 3 – carry out a final cultivation to achieve a fine tilth by 15th March.  This should produce spring germinating plants such as knotgrass, black bindweed chickweed and fumitory.

Whichever option is chosen, it should be located within 300 metres of the nesting habitat.

Finally, the last essential is a source of fresh water, again located no further than 300 metres of the nesting habitat. This can be provided by ponds or ditches with gently sloping margins. CSS options WN5 or 6 and WT4 and 5 provide for pond management.

For information on Countryside Stewardship Scheme options visit

Fumaria_officinalis_Olivier Pichard. Establishing feeding habitat
Fumitary seeds are a favourite food plant of turtle doves. Image: Olivier Pichard