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Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Confusing late EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVES





























This past weekend saw a very late juvenile EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE in Colliston Village leading local observers to suspect its identity as an Oriental Turtle Dove of the form 'meena'. It was a fairly dark individual with heavily fringed upperparts. However, in all honesty, the Collieston bird may well be a European Turtle Dove of the west central Asian form 'arenicola' on account of its extensive grey rump (pers comments).

Late European Turtle Doves are a major pitfall in Britain as this example shows (Andy Webb has very kindly supplied four images of it above). However, meena will always have the structure and 'feel' of a Stock Dove, particularly in flight - they are stockier birds.

On close inspection of the Collieston bird, several features are characteristic of 'turtur' -:

1) The fact that the bird is still very largely in juvenile plumage by mid November. Even meena shows a large selection of first-winter feathers by this time; It completely lacked any hint of the neck patch;

2) The patterning of the newly moulted adult-type coverts and scapulars - the pointed, spiky shapes of the black centred feathers and the broad rufous fringes;

3) The pale primary covert tips and fringes, being quite broad ginger or pale rufous; Oriental has a very narrow fringe which is often very difficult to see;

4) the extent and shape of the bare skin around the eye; more extensive and obvious

5) The uniformity of the dark primaries lacking any obvious pale tips;

6) the startingly white axillaries contrasting with the greyer underwing; Oriental is generally uniform grey on the underwing;

7) the relatively thin and all-dark bill

8) Not diagnostic and similar to meena but this bird had an extensive gleaming white tail band; orientalis is all dark grey;

9) Gleaming white undertail-coverts; Oriental Turtle Dove is much darker with less contrast;

10) Oriental Turtle Dove shows very slightly longer legs and larger feet when feeding on the ground.

I am also indebted to Graham Catley who has provided some outstanding images of a typical late autumn juvenile European Turtle Dove he photographed in Lincolnshire on 29 September 2004 (the 3 images below). However, note the well-defined neck patch on the Lincolnshire bird, suggesting it had fledged in Britain or perhaps close continental Europe in July
An excellent reference is 'The Macmillan Guide to European and Middle Eastern Birds' pages 140-143.
Lee G R Evans