A tale of two pigeons

01 Oct 2013 | No. 2013-35

One of our common garden bird species is quietly disappearing, whilst another is rising to take its place. Results from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden BirdWatch show that the Collared Dove has declined by a quarter in gardens in the last decade while the Woodpigeon population is increasing. Are the two changes linked or is something else responsible?

Woodpigeons have increased by nearly two thirds

Woodpigeons have increased by nearly two thirds in the latest decade, with populations doing particularly well in areas such as south-east England and East Anglia. This population boom appears to be due to altered agricultural practices. Changing from spring-sown to autumn-sown cereals, and the introduction of oil seed rape have led to green foods being available all year round, leading to improved overwinter survival and a longer breeding season. The increase in Woodpigeons has been reflected in the results of the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch, and it is now one of the most commonly reported birds in the UK’s gardens.

The Collared Dove population, on the other hand, has been declining throughout the country since 2005. One reason for this could be the increasing Woodpigeon numbers; the two birds perhaps competing for similar food and habitat. We can’t completely blame the Woodpigeon though. Around the same time as the decline started, trichomonosis, a disease that only affects birds, spread from pigeons and doves to Greenfinches and other small birds, increasing its prevalence in the environment. It is thought that Collared Doves could be more susceptible to trichomonosis than Woodpigeons and that the rise in disease incidents might be having an effect on the Collared Dove population.

Collared Dove population has been declining

Clare Simm, from the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch, comments, "The weekly records from over 14,000 BTO Garden BirdWatchers provide us with fascinating insights into the ever-changing world of birds. Woodpigeons seem to be the latest big winners but we are losing Collared Doves, Greenfinches and Starlings. Why not keep a note of the birds you see visiting your garden each week and you can help us to understand the important part that gardens play in the lives of dozens of species of birds?" 

For more information on this, or how to take part in the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch, email gbw [at] bto.org, telephone 01842 750050, or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Notes for Editors

  1. The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. Currently, some 14,500 people take part in the project. The project is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. For more information see www.bto.org/gbw.
  2. Trichomonosis affects birds all year round but the number of reported incidents peaks at this time of year. It is spread in the saliva of infected birds but can be prevented by regularly cleaning bird tables, bird feeders and bird baths. It is also a good idea to spread feeders out around the garden to stop birds congregating in one place. There is more information at http://www.gardenwildlifehealth.org/.
  3. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations. www.bto.org

Contact Details

Clare Simm
(Garden BirdWatch Development Officer)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: clare.simm [at] bto.org

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at] bto.org

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2013-35

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050 

Related content