Taking stock of wildlife

I live down a narrow, twisting cul-de-sac lane. You are forced to drive very slowly but this does give you the chance to take in the seasonal progression in the hedgerows and verges and the wildlife living in them. 

I was driving home yesterday, watching the territorial disputes of male blackbirds and the wood pigeons drinking from the puddles, when I did a double take. There was a very unusual pigeon beside one of the puddles.

It was slightly smaller and slimmer than a wood pigeon and had no white neck-ring. Instead a patch of metallic green shimmered in the sunlight on the side of its neck, with some salmon pink on the throat. This handsome bird was a stock dove.

I don’t see stock doves very often and they are now amber-listed in Ireland because the population has declined considerably in recent decades. 

I stopped the car to get a better look but the dove was nervous and flew away. Given the time of year, the bird was probably breeding and I wondered where its nest was. Stock doves, unlike wood pigeons, nest in holes. 

Originally most of them nested in hollow trees but these have become rather rare in our countryside. They tend to be taken down because they’re thought to be dangerous and old and decaying trees provide good firewood. 

So most Irish stock doves now nest in holes in derelict buildings and they seemed to have a strong preference for ruined castles. However, the nearest castle was several kilometres away so maybe the stock dove on my lane had managed to find a surviving hollow tree.

Quite close to where I live, there’s a very large estate which is divided between tracts of forestry and several hundred hectares of cereal and rape fields. 

This is ideal stock dove country because they’re almost always associated with arable farmland.

They are a relatively recent arrival and they seem to have come in from the north east. The first Irish breeding records are in 1877 and they’re in counties Down and Louth. 

They then spread fairly rapidly until they could be found in reasonable numbers in every county, though they were always commoner in counties which grew more cereals. The decline started in the 1950s and continues today.

There are a number of possible reasons for this. There may have been a reduction in suitable hollow trees and ruined buildings for nesting sites. 

And we probably grew more grain in the first half of the 20th century than we did in the second. However, it’s interesting that the decline of the stock dove coincides almost exactly with the arrival and colonisation of the country by the collared dove.

Collared doves don’t nest in holes so there would have been no competition for nest sites but there may have been competition for food.


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