Spring has officially arrived in the Netherlands. Resident birds are now getting up to sing at the crack of dawn, and are busy looking for both mates and suitable nesting places. However, there are many birds we see during the spring and summer that have wintered in warmer climes. The return of these birds is heralded from early-April onwards with the first calling chiffchaffs and the erratic flight of returning swallows, but some species take their time returning to their breeding grounds. Turtle doves are one of these species.

This is the first year that a Dutch turtle dove can be followed online in near real-time (here), and it’s been very interesting to see what he’s been up to since he left the Netherlands in September 2020. His 4200 km journey to his wintering grounds in Africa took Jos just 17 days. After crossing the Sahara Jos arrived on the edge of the Sahel in south Mauritania. Ultimately, Jos has spent most of his winter in just 3 areas of half-open landscapes with riparian forest along the River Senegal and its tributaries.

We know from earlier research in Germany, England and France, that turtle doves begin to get ‘restless’ in April, at which point they will start the long journey back to their breeding grounds. Contrary to many migrating birds, they take their time doing this, flying gradually further north over a period of 5-7 weeks. They arrive back at their Dutch breeding grounds from mid-May to June.

We are already looking forward to their arrival this year!

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Updated: Mar 26

In September, shortly following the suspension of Turtle Dove hunting in France, ‘Jos’ left his Dutch breeding grounds in Zeeland and headed south. The journey to his wintering grounds in the Sub-Saharan Sahel region of Africa took him over the Mediterranean, Atlas Mountains and the Sahara – a one-way trip of 4200km, taking 17 days. Since he arrived in the Sahel, Jos has spent the bulk of his time at 2 different locations, both along the Senegal River and its tributaries.

Turtle Doves from Western Europe follow what is known as the ‘Western Flyway’, which goes through France, Spain and Morocco. Suitable wintering habitat needs to have food, water and good roosting locations. Doves tend to use acacia scrub and trees for roosting, and research indicates that crops such as peanut, sorghum and millet, and natural scrubby grassland could be important to the species. If any one of these 3 things is missing, Turtle Doves quickly move on to other areas.

Many Turtle Doves spend the winter around the Senegal River and surrounding area, which we can see reflected in Jos’ movements. The Senegal River basin spans 4 countries (Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal) and, for the large part, has a sub-Saharan desert climate. Peanut, millet and sorghum make up a large proportion of the agriculture here, while acacia grows along the river banks, and on drier slopes. Furthermore, irrigated rice paddies in the Senegal River Valley result in spilt rice grains after the harvest – an important food source for Turtle Doves during drought. It’s little wonder this area is popular with overwintering Turtle Doves.

If all goes well, Jos will spend Christmas 2020 in this same area.

Join us in following Jos via our online map:

Photo: Daniel Triveau, Flickr

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Having spent the breeding season on Walcheren in the Netherlands, European Turtle Dove Jos has crossed Belgium and France, and is now taking a pit stop just south of Valladolid, Spain. This region's Turtle Dove hunting season ended yesterday, on the 20th September 2020.

His nail-biting journey will lead him south, across the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara, to the Sahel belt of Africa (map from English Turtle Dove 'Titan'). Jos will face obstacles such as hunting season, poor weather, habitat loss in rest areas, and sheer exhaustion.

Jos is the first Turtle Dove in the Netherlands to be equipped with a satellite transmitter, allowing us to follow his progress on this incredible journey. It will give us insight into his migration route, and where and when he stops for breaks, ultimately supporting us as we strive to protect his species.

Join us! Follow Jos’ journey on:

This research is in partnership with BirdLife Netherlands and SOVON, with financial support from BirdLife International, BirdLife Netherlands and Het Zeeuwse Landschap.

For more information about our research, visit

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