To dalliance woos the Turtle Dove…

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  13. 05. 2019

This Saturday is World Migratory Bird Day. From the dozens of Czech migratory bird species, all of which are threatened to a greater or lesser extent, I get to choose one of them today: the European Turtle Dove, Czech Bird 2019.

European Turtle Dove. Photo: Jiří Hornek European Turtle Dove. Photo: Jiří Hornek

Few know of the European Turtle Dove, despite the fact that Karel Hynek Mácha mentions it in the opening verses of his poem May. Mácha's Turtle Dove, which “to dalliance woos...” is usually considered to be the far more familiar Eurasian Collared Dove – although it didn’t begin its expansion in the Czech Republic until more than a hundred years after the first edition of May.

The unfamiliarity with the European Turtle Dove is due not only to its more concealed way of life, but also to the fact that its numbers have fallen significantly. In the last few decades, its numbers have declined by tens of percent in most European countries and even by as much as 90% in the United Kingdom and Russia. In the Czech Republic, compared to the early 1980s, only about half of the European Turtle Doves remain. The main causes are well-known: changes in the landscape and intensive farming (both in its nesting sites and in the African wintering grounds) as well as legal and illegal hunting on its migratory routes.

The first two of these causes are highly complex and grave. There is a pressing need to resolve them – it suffices to mention, for example, the imminent lack of water – however, it will be very complicated and expensive. In this light, a restriction on hunting, especially legal hunting, would appear to be a complete banality. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

European Turtle Dove. Photo: Jiří HornekEuropean Turtle Dove. Photo: Jiří Hornek

It is estimated that around 600,000 European Turtle Doves are killed illegally every year in the Mediterranean. Far more, 1.5 million, but maybe more than 2 million, are legally hunted in the European Union alone. This represents at least one fifth of the entire nesting population.

Hunting is permitted in ten EU states, based on an exception referring to local traditions. Specifically, it concerns Annex II of the Birds Directive from 1979. The EU would like to tighten the rules on hunting, at the same time there are mumblings that the forty-year-old list of bird species that can be hunted, as declared by individual Member States, should be changed. I fully agree with that. For instance, the European Turtle Dove should have been taken off the list years ago.

However, compliance with existing legal standards is not a matter of course. One example is Malta. A few years ago, after a great deal of rigmarole, the European Commission, under threat of legal action, was forced to accept a moratorium on hunting European Turtle Doves in the spring. But then what happened: last year Malta prolonged the time of spring quail hunting so that it overlaps with the time when Turtle Dove migration is at its peak. Thus, the Maltese legislation de facto covers illegal conduct. Just a few moments ago I saw fresh photos documenting the illegal hunting of European Turtle Doves in Malta…

A despair has come upon me.