Supplementary feeding for turtle doves

This information is also available as a downloadable PDF from the following link: Supplementary feeding guidance PDF

What do turtle doves need?

Research has shown that a loss of suitable and accessible seed food has been the most significant factor in driving the decline of turtle doves in the UK. Plants that produce suitable seeds for turtle doves can be encouraged using a variety of measures, for more information on land management visit our Create Turtle Dove Habitat page.

We are now also recommending supplementary feeding as an important emergency conservation measure for all areas where turtle doves still breed. Providing turtle doves with a specially formulated mix of seeds helps ensure that they have sufficient food when natural sources are scarce.

Alongside supplementary feed it is important to provide foraging areas of native wild arable plants.

An area of suitable turtle dove forage habitat, with native arable plants and
areas of bare ground.

Research has shown that native arable plant seeds provide the most nutritional value to turtle dove young, when they are growing and developing.

Supplementary feeding trials for turtle doves, carried out in 2016 and 2017, have shown that feeding – using the methods and protocol described here – is effective and safe, with no evidence of increased risk of disease transmission between birds.  Therefore, Operation Turtle Dove recommends that the protocol described here is followed closely to maintain this effectiveness and safety.

What to feed?

Operation Turtle Dove only recommends feeding with a mix of suitable seed types, not just a single seed, to provide nutritional variation. This mix used in the supplementary feeding trials was designed to reflect a range of seed types known to be currently well represented in turtle dove diet, and to provide high nutritional value to turtle doves, at a reasonable price: 10% Wheat, 35% Oil Seed Rape, 35% Feed White Millet, 10% Canary seed, 10% Sunflower Hearts.  This can be viewed as a high standard ideal mix, and Operation Turtle Dove recommends its use if possible. As a minimum, we recommend that any supplementary seed mix for Turtle Doves should contain at least 3 seed types picked from the 5 above, with no more that 10% wheat in any mix, and at least 10% of any other single component.  This should ensure that nutritional balance and quality of the overall mix is maintained.

Each feeding site will require 75kg of the seed mix each year. This should be enough to enable weekly deployment of the supplementary feed for at least eight weeks.


Location and management of feed areas

  • Supplementary food should be located near to (within 300m of) good turtle dove nesting habitat – e.g. tall thick hedges, areas of dense scrub, particularly near ponds. If there is local knowledge of where turtle doves are currently breeding, or have nested recently, supplementary food is best placed within 300m of these locations.
  • The feeding site must be a bare surface free of vegetation or have vegetation that is short (<15cm) and patchy, including at least 30% (preferably 50-60%) bare areas.
  • If the vegetation grows to cover the ground and becomes taller than 15cm before late June, it should be cut back or rotovated.
  • Suitable areas for seed deployment could include stubbles, other fallow or recently established or cultivated areas (including fallow or seed plots), bare or sparsely vegetated tracks, beet pads, very short grass etc.
  • The fed area should be a strip 50m long by 5m wide, or similar.
  • Feeding stations should be in an open location, and not under tree canopy. On farmland they can be located either in-field or adjacent to field boundaries. Maintaining the supplementary feeding site in the same location through a breeding season is the preferred method. If for any reason the original feeding site cannot be maintained throughout the breeding season, eg. because the vegetation becomes too over-grown or there is build up of uneaten seed, then the seed should be moved as short a distance as possible to a location that is suitable, rather than continuing to use what becomes unsuitable vegetation structure.

    Example areas for supplementary feeding

When, and how much to feed

  • Supplementary feeding for turtle doves should be carried out for at least eight weeks from the first week of May until late June. Starting earlier (mid-April) and continuing into July could be beneficial in at least some situations, and can be done wherever possible.
  • Seed should be put out each week; spun or scattered to spread it thinly and evenly across the whole feeding site, to avoid creating piles or trails of seed. 6kg of seed per week over a 50m x 5m feeding site is the recommended rate.

    The seed mix should be broadcast over a wide area, to reduce the risk of disease
  • This low rate of seed delivery has been tested and found to be safe for preventing a build up of pathogens. If you want to provide more seed then consider putting in more than one feeding plot. A trail camera is a good way of monitoring your feeding sites.
  • If there is a visible build-up of unused food, stop feeding for at least one week to reduce the chance of pathogen build-up.

Other considerations

If you are in an agri-environment scheme such as Countryside Stewardship you may need to seek permission from Natural England if the area selected for the supplementary feed is within an agreement option. Contact your local Natural England Advisor for more information.

Seed-eating birds other than turtle doves are highly likely to find and use this supplementary food. The presence of other birds should not prevent use by turtle doves, and indeed may alert turtle doves to the presence of the seed, which may then increase the chance of them benefitting from it. Other seed-eating bird species of conservation concern may also benefit from this supplementary feeding, possibilities including: grey partridge, skylark, linnet, bullfinch, yellowhammer, reed bunting.

Download the Supplementary feeding guidance PDF