Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Notes from the Sticks: The collared dove coup


THIS week I am writing about something I don’t see often in the sticks, the collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto), strictly speaking the Eurasian collared dove.  

This is presumably because it is a commensal of man (I love that word, which means ‘shares a table’) and is almost always found within striking distance of human habitation. Obviously our village has human habitations, but maybe there are not enough to please the doves.

There is no mistaking them with their black collars. Their call is similar to a wood pigeon but shorter.

I find them charming birds, peaceful (as of course doves should be) and friendly (once in Lanzarote a pair shared our lunch before adjourning for some billing and cooing) though they are quite capable of squaring up to bigger birds over food. Here is a video of one sparring with a wood pigeon (the action starts at about 1min 40sec).

Although I don’t see many these days, they are very widespread in Britain. There were plenty in the London suburbs where we used to live, and as grain eaters they frequent farmland where crops are grown. Therefore it may surprise some readers that they are relative newcomers. Until the end of the 19th century they were found only in Asia but suddenly (I am not sure if anyone understands the reason) they started expanding their range to colder areas across Europe. They appeared in the Balkans between 1900 and 1920, reaching Germany in 1945 and Britain in 1953, breeding here for the first time in 1955 or 1956.

They made their way to the US via the Bahamas, where several birds escaped from a pet shop during a mid-1970s burglary. Apparently the shop owner released the rest of his flock, a total of about 50. They were first found nesting in Florida in 1982 and now they are established in every state. They are classified as invasive, but so far fears that they would impinge on populations of similar native birds, such as the spotted dove and the mourning dove, have turned out to be unfounded. In fact it has been found that there are more native doves where there are collared doves than where there are no collared doves.


After I wrote last week about the worrying absence of insects, small birds and bats this year, a number of readers said their experience was similar. Here are a few comments:

Horatio Blogs: It’s been a dreadful year for insects and bird life up in the borders. My friends down saaarf tell me the same story.

linuslimmy: Just one crane fly this year and that was dying! Usually, there are clouds of them here. Two pied wagtails when we’re used to seeing several.

Seejayman: Our Worcestershire garden has been lacking wildlife of every kind normally seen each year.

39 Pontiac Dream: We’ve seen more butterflies but fewer wasps, bees, houseflies, bluebottles and birds. Over the years we’ve seen quite a few bats around here. None this year.

You can call me Al: Same here in The Netherlands.

johnathanrackham: I live next to a wild wood, not interfered with by human hands coming along and meddling. I also have a Buddleia. I have seen few birds, two starlings visit and so does a robin but that’s about it. As for butterflies, none but the usual cabbage whites, no admirals, no peacocks or anything else. No hedgehogs in my garden. No bees, other than a bumble bee that got into my living room and that I had to chase out for fear it would be got at by the cat.

Alan Bishop: We have also noticed a reduction in the insect population on the southwest coast of Devon.

Given this anecdotal evidence, all the wildlife charities that I know of would instantly dismiss it with ‘climate change’. They are all in hock to the manmade global warming mob. But the idea that creatures which have flourished on Earth for millions of years (just done a bit of Googling – bats 50million years, birds at least 60million, insects 480million) are unable to cope with the minuscule temperature changes that we are said to be seeing just does not make sense. They have been through much more extreme variations in climate including far higher temperatures and several Ice Ages. Global warming is a convenient explanation which obviates the need to discuss less comfortable ones such as wind turbines. I would say it is impossible to introduce overnight thousands of giant hungry predators into the natural world without some nasty impacts. There are plenty of other reasons why animal life is under stress, such as industrial use of pesticides (which by definition kill insects), and fertilisers which run into water courses and disturb the chemical balance, yet there seems little interest in addressing these issues.

Commenter ‘linuslimmy’ remarked: ‘Margaret, since we’re all dotted about the country and every week you draw a lot of comments of what we’ve seen and more to the point, what we expect to see and haven’t in the relevant seasons, is there any interest in maintaining a list of dearths of species according to area?’ I think this is a great idea. If anyone would like to take it further please do let me know.


As I predicted last week, my iPhone was a goner. I did not get a new one until Thursday and although it is as close to the last one as possible, there are masses of trivial alterations for which I can see no reason. I would call it change for change’s sake, but what do I know?

If I had been told 20 years ago that by now my daily life would depend on a mobile phone and a computer (I did not even see a computer until I was 40) I would have snorted in disbelief. I do find it worrying how easily life as we know it could be brought to a standstill by sabotage of the technology. Partly for this reason I have kept my old portable typewriter, a 21st birthday gift in 1970, and several ribbons, though I suppose that typing letters would be the least of our worries come the apocalypse. Anyway, here it is, the first picture taken with my new phone, showing its protective case complete with two brushes for dusting it. 

When I started in newspapers the noise of manual typewriters in the office could be almost deafening. I remember one reporter called David Pryke, who ran a news agency in Luton, hammering the keys as if his life depended on it. But the machines were robust and I don’t think he ever killed one.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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