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Turtle Doves captive breeding and release project


In brief, the main purpose of the project is to increase the wild population (not for hunting purposes, and therefore any release is affected during the hunting closed season). This is the only tangible contribution that Malta has to offer towards the conservation of this species in the wild, simply because turtle doves do not regularly breed in any considerable numbers in the wild on the Maltese islands. In addition, the amount released may serve as a compensatory measure for any turtle doves that may be taken from the wild in the Maltese islands.

This project had been in the plans of the FKNK for years but could never get off the ground for lack of funds and some spokes-in-the-wheels by a particular civil servant. Therefore, in 2017, when funds were made available through a Government Ministry supported by a private enterprise, the FKNK released over 400 turtle doves into the wild, which birds had been bred and fledged in captivity.

This first release took place from within the Natura 2000 Sanctuary of Buskett Gardens.

In 2018, thanks to the State Structural Funds obtained through the Wild Birds Conservation Fund, and the intervention of the Agricultural Ministry, the FKNK secured a site within Government’s Għammieri Farms where an adequate central aviary was constructed and equipped to house the project’s turtle doves stock.

Also in 2018 the release of over 700 turtle doves was effected from Malta’s sister island of Gozo in the presence of two Government Ministers.

In 2019, the release of around another 400 turtle doves was held on the occasion of the opening of the FKNK Fair: Game and Country Expo, again with the participation of the Agricultural Ministry.

No birds were released in 2020 due to the Pandemic.

It is important to note that over the years the FKNK has released several other hundreds of turtle doves from the Project at various annual events, namely on the National Traditional Feast of Imnarja, that falls on 29 June; on the celebration of the Feast of St. Julian (The Patron Saint of Maltese
Hunters), that happens on every last Sunday of August; during children’s organized events, such as outings, school visits, etc.

The FKNK has also expanded the project by the construction of another aviary within the school grounds of the Sannat School in Gozo where a number of turtle doves which had been bred and fledged at the school’s aviary, were released in 2021 by a number of the school’s pupils and the Minister of Gozo together with the Minister for Education.


Since all the released birds are ringed with FKNK rings, the FKNK has received some feedback from birds recovered in Malta on their return autumn passage (the releases always take place in spring) and about a few others recovered in Italy. The latest such recovery was on 16 September 2022 by a Mr Khaled Mabri who explained that two turtle doves bearing FKNK rings 677 and 673 have been recovered together on the same day of 16 September 2022 at 16:20 hrs some 50 Km East of Sirte in Libya. These birds were part of the May 2022 Project’s release.


Venturing further, the 2021 release of around another 350 turtle doves, included 8 birds which were equipped with GPS tags – the modern way to track bird-migration patterns.

Awareness of birds’ migration patterns, that is, the distance that a bird travels from one point to another during its migration movements, have so far depended on data obtained through bird-ringing.

One thing is certain today: technological innovations such as GPS Satellite tracking transmitters will continue to shed light on one of the most fascinating mysteries of the natural world – Birds’ Migration.

31 AUGUST 2021:

Thanks once again to the intervention of a Government Ministry supported by a private enterprise, eight GPS satellite tracking transmitters were sponsored, which were fitted to 8 first year fledglings from the FKNK turtle dove Project, which birds were then released into the wild. Weight and wing measurements were recorded for these birds prior release, a FKNK split-ring fitted and the birds were also given names. Thus the FKNK could conduct further research and better monitor the movement and behaviour of the released turtle doves.

The FKNK thus purchased six GPS-solar powered backpack transmitters and two solar ptt-100 Argos GPS transmitters. Two different materials were used for the transmitter harnesses: teflon and nylon.


These GPS satellite tracking transmitters only weigh 5 grams and the battery is charged through its tiny solar panel. This system is definitely the modern way forward to track birds' migration in that they can supply exact bird behaviour and movements; speed of flight; altitude of flight and location; temperature of bird and location; besides other useful information. Details that are absent in bird-ringing.


Italian ornithologist Mr. Alessandro Tedeschi from the association 'Ufficio Avifauna Migratoria' within the Italian Hunting Federation, who has years of experience in fitting such transmitters and subsequent tracking, was in Malta to demonstrate the method of fitting the transmitters on the birds and the eventual tracking monitoring to a number of the FKNK Council Members.

On 18 May 2021, the FKNK in presence of Mr Alessandro Tedeschi released the first two subjects named Anna and Ġanni. On 19 may 2021, the FKNK with assistance from Mr Alessandro Tedeschi released another six subjects named Kelinu; Nataniel; Gulia; Xandru; Lily; and Ġuża. All eight subjects together with around another 350 turtle doves were released from id-Dahar, l-Aħrax, Limits of Mellieħa.

In a few days, Anna was found dead on 18 May, stuck by the harness to a twig of a citrus tree in Rdum il-Qammieħ, Mellieħa; on 26 may Nataniel was lost at sea in Mġarr, Gozo; and on 31 May, Kelinu was found dead (cause unknown) in the boundary of the BirdLife Malta Għadira Nature Reserve in Mellieħa. The transmitters of Anna and Kelinu were recovered by the FKNK, but unfortunately that of Nataniel was not since the bird was lost at sea as indicated by the last signal received from said transmitter. The transmitters of Anna and Kelinu were allocated on new birds, namely Rita and Ġużepp, which birds were then released on 11 and 25 July respectively again from l-Aħrax, Limits of Mellieħa area.


In the following table one sees the general average of the ten birds on weight and wing measurement; days of movement from between location stops; total air distance km (where known); average meter / second flight speed ​​(where known); and maximum flight altitude meters (where known):

Other observations: - Most migrations occurred during the night hours.

A very interesting occurrence is subject Rita which seems to have stopped in Bulgaria (to

This because the eight reference population countries for the turtle dove that are used by the local authorities to arrive at the national bag quotas do not include Bulgaria, since no ring recoveries have been recorded locally for this country.

Thus the following relevant information provides food for thought:

Extract from Paper regarding Breeding Turtle Dove pairs in Bulgaria:

“Bulgaria falls within the natural nesting range of the Turtle Dove, which was reported as a common and widespread species in the middle of the 20th century (Patev, 1950). The size of the population varied between 25,000 and 80,000 breeding pairs for the period of 1996–2005 (Stoychev and Mitev, 2007) and 35,000 and 100,000 breeding pairs between 2005 and 2012 (Birdlife International, 2017). At present, the Turtle Dove is one of the primary game species.”

Reference: G.GRUYCHEV and H. MIHAYLOV (2019) Breeding density of European Turtle Dove (Streptopelia turtur) on Sakar Mountain (SE Bulgaria). Department of Wildlife Management, Faculty of Forestry, University of Forestry, Sofia, Bulgaria.



On 14 May 2022 on the occasion of World Bird Migration Day, the FKNK released more than 400 turtle doves into the wild from Paradise Bay, Mellieħa. The released birds were first year off-spring from the FKNK Project.

On Thursday, June 2, 2022, a Government Minister released into the wild the last, which he named Faith, from the six turtle doves similarly released during that week by the FKNK, which birds were fitted with GPS transmitters before their release.

This release, which took place from the “Ir-Razzett tal-Bagħal”, a 16 th century Knights of Malta Farmhouse, inside Buskett Gardens, which farmhouse has been administered by the FKNK since 2015, followed the encouraging success of the results achieved by the FKNK last year with the release of other turtle doves which were also harnessed with similar transmitters. Through these the FKNK was able to follow the journey of these turtle doves to the various countries’ breeding grounds in the north of the Maltese islands, and also some return migration of the same birds. In this way it is possible to better identify those countries where turtle doves nest, the same countries being the reference populations of turtle doves migrating over the Maltese islands, and on which populations is established the turtle dove hunting quota.

These transmitters have once again been financed by the same Private Enterprise as last year and again thanks to the intervention of the same Honourable Minister.

It should also be noted that the birds are tagged a week prior to their release and released in a separate aviary so that they can get accustomed to the tag and observed before their eventual release into the wild.

The last position data received from 3 of this year’s birds are listed in the below table, while the other three similarly tagged and released birds are still occasionally sending signals, they have not recorded any position data as yet.

For the second year in succession a turtle dove seems to have settled in Bulgaria, while another turtle dove seems to have settled in Kosovo, which country’s turtle dove population, like Bulgaria’s, has never been regarding as a reference population for the birds that migrate over the Maltese islands. It has again been noted that most of the migration took place during the night.

The FKNK Turtle Dove Project latest successful achievement is that it has now reached one of its primary goals, the "compensatory measure" objective. This because, from 2017 (when the Project was launched) until 2022, the official figure of taken turtle doves by hunting in the Maltese islands amounted to 2134, whereas the amount of turtle doves that were released into the wild on the strength of the Project during the same period of years is 2800.

Here the FKNK is pleased to announce that also as part of the celebrations of its fiftieth anniversary, this year (2023) the Project will release back into the wild a record number of turtle doves around May/June.

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