Everyone knows the song, but anyone celebrating the 12 days of Christmas would be lucky to see one turtle dove, never mind two.
Sightings of the dainty bird around the UK in the festive season have become increasingly rare after a range of factors have led to a decline in their numbers.
In years past they would usually have been seen in the English countryside between April and September for the breeding season – and migrated by the autumn.
While The Twelve Days Of Christmas might merrily mention two turtle doves, council staff who work in Nottinghamshire’s country parks have warned visitors not to expect to see the chestnut and black-coloured songbird.
Gary Joynt, Nottinghamshire County Council’s country parks learning and events officer, said: “The lyrics of The Twelve Days Of Christmas are somewhat misleading as turtle doves have not traditionally have been around in the UK during the festive season.
“Song birds such as the turtle dove and willow warblers have declined for a number of reasons over the years. Many are migrants visiting us in summer and travel to the UK from Africa, entering Europe via Gibraltar.
“Factors which determine their numbers include poor weather during the breeding season, delayed migration due to unfavourable weather conditions and a reduction in the number of birds returning each year.
“Also, birds arriving late may only raise one brood instead of two or even three during the breeding season.
“Turtle doves have a distinctive calling noise like a purring cat, while willow warblers make a melodious cascading sound that becomes softer towards the end before finishing with a flourish.
“Turtle doves have not been seen at Sherwood for a number of years and willow warblers are in decline locally too.”
Visitors to Nottinghamshire’s country parks now are most likely to see robins, blackbirds, chaffinches, song thrushes, starlings and long-tailed tits, which are resident all year round, with winter visitors from Scandinavia such as redwings and fieldfares.