Of all the families in the bird world, the one I find most difficult to get excited about is the pigeon tribe. I cannot put my finger on the reason. Perhaps it’s because most of them are sedentary and live comfortable, dull lives, relatively safe in forest habitats, and are usually ‘common where found’. Perhaps I just envy them their success! You certainly have to take your hat off to one species we are now all familiar with - the Collared Dove.

The modern generation take them for granted as the familiar ‘cu-coo-ooh’ may have been the first bird noise they heard as an infant. I take delight is spotting (or hearing) them in historical film dramas when they were still confined to northern India and Asia. Their rapid spread through the Near East and Europe since the 1930s is also the stuff of legend! The first breeding pair in Britain was discovered in Cromer, Norfolk in 1955. By 1960 they had reached North Yorkshire, and Moray in Scotland just two years later. Despite their sub-tropical origins, they weren’t deterred by the northern climate, providing the supply of grain was adequate, and even reached Iceland in 1971.

Eurasian Collared Dove [Streptopelia Decaocto]

The westward spread through southern Europe was slower, with northern Portugal not colonised until 1974. From there a southward expansion reached Lisbon in the mid-80s but it was not until the ‘90s that the Algarve welcomed its quota, now reaching almost pest proportions. I suppose it’s nice to see man exploited by nature for a change!

One quirky effect of the arrival of the Collared Dove in Britain was the abandonment of one of ‘The Times’ newspaper’s longest traditions. Each spring they announced the date of the first Cuckoo reported by a reader. April norms suddenly changed to March, then February. The penny finally dropped. The introductory syllable of the Collared Dove’s three note call (given throughout the year) was inaudible at a distance, or drowned by traffic noise, making it sound vaguely Cuckoo-like.

The Collared Dove has a close relative in North Africa known, in its domestic form, as ‘Barbary Dove’. I saw a few escaped birds on Santa Maria in the Azores, which the Collared Dove has not yet reached, but I did see a pair on São Miguel in 2011, so it is only a question of time . . .

Alan Vittery