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What is a Dovecote?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A dovecote or dovecot is a structure designed to house pigeons, doves, and other small birds. Numerous examples of historic dovecotes can be found at various sites all over the world, and modern dovecotes are used to house racing pigeons and other hobby birds. These structures provide a safe environment for pigeons to nest in, as well as creating a clear home base for the birds which encourages them to come home.

Historically, pigeons and doves were important food animals, providing both eggs and flesh. They were also used to carry messages, and their manure was a great form of fertilizer. People kept varying numbers of birds in their dovecotes, and in some parts of the world, a flock of doves was a status symbol. In these regions, dovecote construction was regulated, and ownership of the birds was restricted to people of certain social rank. Some very fine examples of ornate dovecotes can be found at old manors in Europe.

Several basic design features are common to all dovecotes. They generally have a large number of compartments or cubbies to serve as individual nest holes, and they are also elevated, to deter predators. The shape of a dovecote varies widely; circular, square, octagonal, and triangular dovecotes are all relatively common. Typically, the structure is large enough for someone to walk inside, and it is hollowed out, with the cubbies lining the inside walls. Dovecotes are often kept dark to promote nesting.

Human users can easily reach into the dovecote cubbies to pull out eggs or individual birds, and the design facilitates the collection of manure for fertilizer. Periodically, the pigeonholes need to be scoured to remove detritus which could promote the spread of disease among the birds. Some dovecotes also have feeding areas, while other people prefer to scatter food for their birds outside, except in very bad weather. The design also usually includes closing doors to secure the birds inside during inclement weather or when a predator is around.

In addition to large dovecotes which could comfortably accommodate several people, it is also possible to find much smaller structures which are designed for installation on urban roofs or in back gardens. In some cases, the dovecote may only have holes for a few birds, making it ideal for a casual hobbyist who likes keeping birds but doesn't want to invest a lot of energy. These dovecotes can often be purchased in kit form from hobbyist suppliers.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By KoiwiGal — On Jan 03, 2012

@bythewell - I find if you have an open air dovecote they don't usually manage to build the population up that much.

Doves generally lay two eggs per season and one of the chicks always ends up turfing the other out of the nest, so unless you are raising every extra chick by hand (possible, and even rewarding, but extremely time consuming and I rarely find the poor things in time to save them anyway)the population of a dovecote won't get too high.

Mine are quite popular among my friends though, so I suppose I have given a couple of doves away in the last few years, but I never felt like the area was going to get too crowded.

By bythewell — On Jan 02, 2012

@Mor - I think if you are planning to have both doves and pigeons you're better off having a separate dovecote for each kind of bird anyway. Otherwise, the bigger pigeons will drive off the doves and take their nesting places.

Personally, I'd rather just have doves, if it's for the ambiance. Pigeons are more useful if you are planning to eat them, but people rarely keep them for that reason now.

Doves are quieter, but they make a lovely cooing noise that I find very comforting in a garden, and they can become very tame if you put some effort into it.

The only thing to consider is that if you provide them with food and safe lodgings, they will breed very quickly, especially white and ringneck (also known as barbary) doves.

You need to make sure that you either cull the eggs as necessary, or have a place to sell or give away the younger birds.

By Mor — On Jan 01, 2012

One thing you have to consider if you want to keep both pigeons and doves is that pigeons tend to be bullies. I had a large walk in aviary for a while when I was a teenager and we put all kinds of birds in there. I would find a cheap bird advertised in the newspaper and my dad would drive me to get it. So I ended up with lots of different kinds, including at one point, pigeons.

Unfortunately, the pigeons were one of the biggest kinds of birds I had and they would pick on all the other birds, especially over food. The doves in particular began to look quite unhappy.

Eventually one of the pigeons actually injured a dove and we sold them off to someone else.

It probably wouldn't be as much of a problem in a dovecote as the birds would be able to stay away from each other a bit more, but if you hope to keep both pigeons and doves you might want to think about making sure you get placid types so they won't end up injuring each other.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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