For centuries, turtle doves have served as a symbol of true, devoted love. And not without good reason: turtle doves mate for life. Any ornithologists out there might rightfully retort that so do many birds. But, the turtle dove’s distinct turr turrr call—from which it gets its name (Streptopelia turtur)—has been likened to the sound of weeping and through the years has romantically been painted as the eternal mourning over a lost lover, as in the haunting English folk song, “The Turtle Dove“, by Ralph Vaughn Williams.
There’s something refreshingly honest about having true love represented not by a pure, white dove, but one displaying a motley array of colors and patterns: the body, head and neck of a turtle dove are mostly blue grey (the latter marked by a particular white and black striped patch), the wings are a warm reddish brown flecked with black and white, the tail feathers have a bold black center and white border, and the breast is vinaceous. Ah, yes, love is complicated.
Turtle doves find their mate between May and July while in their northern habitat, which can range from Europe to Asia. Males attempt to impress females by puffing up their chest (no comment) and bobbing up and down. When a female selects her man, they begin building a nest in which the female will lay one to two small white eggs that both she and her mate will help incubate over a period of about two weeks. Turtle doves will have up to three clutches of offspring per mating season before flying south to Africa in the fall.
Now, enough learning. Go get all lovey-dovey! It is Valentine’s Day.