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A MIDST the general harmony of the grove ^ *- in spring, there are few prettier sounds than the gentle cooing of the Turtle-Dove. Perched upon a bough at no great height from the ground, it pours forth its soft murmurings with a delightful crescendo and diminuendo, while close at hand, upon a mere frame-work of a nest, the mate sits brooding upon her two milk-white eggs.
Arriving in this country towards the end of April or beginning of May, the Turtle-Dove is seen only in pairs until the young are able to fly. Young and old then unite in flocks, and ten or a dozen may often be found together in the pea-fields and on the stubble, where they pick up the fallen grain. They are very partial also to vetches, rape, and wild mustard, and do some service to farmers by ridding the cultivated lands of the seeds of numerous weeds, such as the Corn Spurrey (Spergula arvensis), which is common in corn-fields, and the Silver-weed (Potentilla anserina), which they find upon the fallows.
When Partridge shooting in September I have frequently found Turtle-Doves feeding amongst the root crops as well as on the bare stubble, but notwithstanding the cover afforded by the turnip-leaves I have generally found them so exceedingly wary, that it required a good deal of manoeuvring before I could get a sufficient number to make a pie. In point of flavour, and of course in size, they are not to be compared with the Wood Pigeon, being rather dry and somewhat insipid. Their flight is rapid, and when suddenly flushed they go off at such a pace, that it requires a quick shot to bring one down.
When taken young they are readily tamed, and will even breed in confinement, a thing that rarely happens in the case of the Wood Pigeon. Mr. Stevenson has known two or three instances in which this species when caged has crossed with the Collared Turtle-Dove (Turturrisoria) and reared a brood, and others have been recorded. The young "presented many characteristics of both parents."1
Although commoner in the eastern and southeastern counties of England, the Turtle-Dove is generally dispersed in summer throughout the British Islands. In Ireland it is regarded as an annual visitant to the cultivated districts, and it has been found in most of the counties of Scotland, where Mr. Robert Gray, however, considers that it can only be ranked as a straggler.1 All the specimens which have come under his own observation were obtained in spring or autumn. In the Hebrides specimens have been shot in I slay and Skye, but in the outer islands none have been seen. Dr. Saxby says that the Turtle-Dove, " although formerly very scarce in Shetland, may now be seen every year in certain of the gardens—that at Halligarth especially—between spring and autumn. It has always occurred singly. With nearly all the habit was to wander away during the day-time, returning at night to roost in one particular tree.2
1 "The Birds of Norfolk," vol. i. p. 360.
It was first known to occur in Shetland in the autumn of 1856, when Mr. Edmondston of Buness shot one at Balta Sound. "It was but little seen from that time until about six years ago (1868), by which time the trees had grown above the walls, offering a more suitable refuge for stragglers of this description." On two
1 "The Birds of the West of Scotland," p. 223.
2 "The Birds of Shetland," p. 152.
occasions the Turtle-Dove has been found in Orkney.1
On the continent of Europe this bird seems to be confined chiefly to the central and southern parts, and does not reach Scandinavia or Russia. But in France, Spain, and the countries bordering the Mediterranean, it is very common in summer. Its winter haunts are in North Africa; and in Egypt and Nubia it is especially abundant. Capt. Shelley says that it frequently breeds there.2 In the neighbourhood of Tangier vast flocks arrive from the interior-in April and May to cross the Straits of Gibraltar,3 and on reaching Andalusia afford considerable diversion to the Spanish sportsmen, who kill large numbers by lying in wait for them.
Mr. Thompson, when proceeding in H. M.S. "Beacon" from Malta to the Morea in the month of April, saw this species on its spring
1 Baikie and Heddle, "Fauna Orcadensis," p. 55, and Gray, op. cit. p. 223.
2 "Birds of Egypt," p. 214. See ante, p. 281.
3 Irby, "Ornithology of the Straits of Gibraltar," p. 134.