London - If you are expecting a gift of two turtle doves from your true love this Christmas, you may be disappointed.

For the bird, celebrated in the Twelve Days of Christmas carol, is in peril, conservationists have warned.

Latest figures show numbers have plummeted by nearly two thirds in five years and it could soon be extinct.

With just 14,000 turtle dove pairs in Britain, the species was “on a knife edge”.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds warned that the grey partridge – which features in the first verse of the song – is also under threat.

Dr Mark Eaton, of the charity, said: “Losing six out of ten of our turtle doves and three out of ten grey partridge in five years is nothing short of an unsustainable wildlife disaster. If this trend continues we could be down to fewer than 1,000 pairs of turtle doves by the middle of the next decade, with complete extinction a real possibility.

“These two icons of Christmas are telling us that wildlife is in crisis. We are urging the Government to take urgent action.”

Turtle doves are actually never in Britain at Christmas because they migrate to Africa.

Scientists believe the move to intensive farming in their sub-Saharan wintering grounds is robbing them of their natural habitat. The birds are also being shot by Mediterranean hunters as they fly back to Britain.

The RSPB has launched Operation Turtle Dove, encouraging farmers to protect hedgerows for nesting, and plant wildflowers that produce seeds for the birds. - Daily Mail