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Tracking Titan the turtle dove on its 3,500-mile round trip from Suffolk to Africa and back again

Two turtle doves Photo: Andy Hay / RSPB

The migration route of a breeding turtle dove has been mapped for the first time from Suffolk to Mali and it's hoped in the fight against extinction.

The bird was tracked the Bedfordshire-based Royal Society for the Protection for Birds (RSPB) providing valuable data in the conservation fight to help save the species from extinction in the UK.

In August 2014, the RSPB fitted a light-weight satellite tag to a turtle dove from Suffolk before it embarked on its mammoth migration journey.

In a UK science first, the RSPB was able to track Titan, the tagged turtle dove, on his 3,500 mile (5600 km) migration route from Suffolk to Mali, and back again, all in real time.

The UK population of turtle doves is halving every six years. Credit: Andy Hay / RSPB

The turtle dove population has plummeted 96% since 1970, making it the UK’s fastest declining migrant bird.

The decline is so dramatic that the population is halving in number every six years; should it continue at this rate the RSPB says the species may be lost as a breeding bird in the UK within the next couple of decades.

East Anglia is on the front line of efforts to save UK turtle doves as the region supports nearly two-thirds of the current breeding population.

East Anglia is on the front line of efforts to save UK turtle doves. Credit: Andy Hay / RSPB

“We are delighted to hear that Titan has returned to Suffolk and made history in allowing us to track his progress.

“As one of the turtle dove’s last remaining breeding areas in the UK, Eastern England has become an important focus for conservation efforts. A major part of this is our work with farmers to establish measures to encourage wildlife such as the planting and management of ‘turtle dove seed mix.’ This can help to address the shortage of food plants which is one of the drivers of the turtle dove’s decline in the UK."

– Sam Lee, Operation Turtle Dove Farm Conservation Adviser
The route taken by Titan the turtle dove from Suffolk to Africa and back again. Credit: RSPB / Google Maps

Flying mostly at night, Titan flew across the Atlas Mountains, Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Cadiz. The satellite tag also uncovered that he travelled around 300-435 miles (500-700 km) per night flying at a maximum speed of 37 miles per hour (60 km/h).

Titan’s outbound journey to Africa, where he wintered for six months, took around a month to complete.

On his return he spent two weeks making his way through France, initially following the Atlantic coast, before leaving from Dunkirk and touching down in Suffolk.

The latest satellite reading shows that Titan has returned to the same area he was first found and tagged in Suffolk.

East Anglia supports nearly two-thirds of the current UK breeding population of turtle doves. Credit: Andy Hay / RSPB

“This is the first time that we have ever been able to track a UK-breeding turtle dove to its African wintering grounds.

“Our aim now is to build on this new information, which will be used to help us to target our conservation efforts far more effectively on precisely those areas the birds are using when they leave the UK.”

– Dr John Mallord, RSPB Senior Conservation Scientist