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.