A dovecote or dovecot (Scots: Doocot) is a structure intended to house pigeons or doves. Dovecotes may be square or circular free-standing structures or built into the end of a house or barn. They generally contain pigeonholes for the birds to nest.[1] Pigeons and doves were an important food source historically in Western Europe and were kept for their eggs, flesh, and dung.[2] In Scotland the tradition is continued in modern urban areas.

Dovecote at Nymans Gardens, West Sussex, England


History and geography

In some cultures, particularly Medieval Europe, the possession of a dovecote was a symbol of status and power and was consequently regulated by law. Only nobles had this special privilege known as droit de colombier. Many ancient manors in France and the United Kingdom have a dovecote (still standing or in ruins) in one section of the manorial enclosure or in nearby fields. Examples include Château de Kerjean in Brittany, France, Houchin, France, Bodysgallen Hall in Wales, and Muchalls Castle and Newark Castle in Scotland.

The oldest dovecotes are thought to have been the fortified dovecotes of Upper Egypt, and the domed dovecotes of Iran. In the dry regions, the droppings were in great demand and were collected on uniformly cleaned braids.[clarification needed]

Columbaria in Ancient Rome

Columbarium in a 3rd century Roman mausoleum in Mazor (Israel).

The presence of dovecotes is not noted in France before the Roman invasion of Gaul by Caesar. The pigeon farm was then a passion in Rome: the Roman, generally round, columbarium had its interior covered with a white coating of marble powder. Varro, Columella and Pliny the Elder wrote works on pigeon farms and dovecote construction. In the city of Rome in the time of the Republic and the Empire the internal design of the banks of pigeonholes was adapted for the purpose of disposing of cremated ashes after death: these columbaria were generally constructed underground.

Dovecotes of France

The French word for dovecote is pigeonnier or colombier. In some French provinces, especially Normandy, France, the dovecotes were built of wood in a very stylized way. Stone was the other popular building material for these old dovecotes. These stone structures were usually built in circular, square and occasionally octagonal form. Some of the medieval French abbeys had very large stone dovecotes on their grounds.

In Brittany the dovecote was sometimes built directly into the upper walls of the farmhouse or manor-house.[3] In rare cases, it was built into the upper gallery of the lookout tower (for example at the Toul-an-Gollet manor in Plesidy, Brittany).[4] Dovecotes of this type are called tour-fuie in French.

Even some of the larger château-forts such as the Château de Suscinio in Morbihan, still have a complete dovecote standing on the grounds, outside the moat and walls of the castle.

Colombiers (or pigeonniers) in mediæval France

In France, it was called a colombier or fuie from the 13th century onwards and pigeonnier until the 19th century.[citation needed]

Colombier at Manoir d'Ango near Dieppe

The dovecote interior, the space granted to the pigeons, is divided into a number of boulins (pigeon holes). Each boulin is the lodging of a pair of pigeons. These boulins can be in rock, brick or cob (adobe) and installed at the time of the construction of the dovecote or be in pottery (jars lying sideways, flat tiles, etc.), in braided wicker in the form of a basket or of a nest. It is the number of boulins that indicates the capacity of the dovecote. The one at the chateau d'Aulnay with its 2,000 boulins and the one at Port-d'Envaux with its 2,400 boulins of baked earth are among the largest ones in France.

In the Middle Ages, particularly in France, the possession of a colombier à pied (dovecote on the ground accessible by foot), constructed separately from the corps de logis of the manor-house (having boulins from the top down), was a privilege of the seigneurial lord. He was granted permission by his overlord to build a dovecote or two on his estate lands. For the other constructions, the dovecote rights (droit de colombier) varied according to the provinces. They had to be in proportion to the importance of the property, placed in a floor above a henhouse, a kennel, a bread oven, even a wine cellar. Generally the aviaries were integrated into a stable, a barn or a shed, and were permitted to use no more than 2.5 hectares of arable land.

Although they produced an excellent fertilizer (known as colombine), the lord's pigeons were often seen as a nuisance by the nearby peasant farmers, in particular at the time of sowing of new crops. In numerous regions (in France) where the right to possess a dovecote was reserved solely for the nobility (Brittany, Normandy, etc.), the complaint rolls very frequently recorded formal requests for the suppression of this privilege and a law for its abolition, which was finally ratified on 4 August 1789 in France.

Dovecotes of Italy

Dovecotes were included in several of the villa designs of Andrea Palladio. As an integral part of the World Heritage Site "Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto", dovecotes such as those at Villa Barbaro enjoy a high level of protection.

Dovecotes of the Netherlands and Belgium

An old Dovecote in Doorn, Netherlands

Dovecotes in Belgium are mostly associated with pigeon racing. They have special features such as trap doors which allow pigeons to fly in, but not out. The Belgian-Dutch word for dovecote is "duivekot".

Dovecotes of Transylvania

The Szekely people of Transylvania incorporate a dovecote into the design of their famous gates. These intricately carved wooden structures feature a large arch with a slatted door, which is meant to admit drivers of carriages and wagons (although today the visitors are probably driving cars and trucks), and smaller arch with a similar door for pedestrians. Across the top of the gate is a dovecote with 6-12 or more pigeonholes and a roof of wooden shingles or tiles.[5]

Dovecotes of the United Kingdom

The Romans may have introduced dovecotes or columbaria to Britain since pigeon holes have been found in Roman ruins at Caerwent. However it is believed that doves were not commonly kept there until after the Norman invasion.[citation needed] The earliest use of dovecotes in Britain may have been in the Roman period—although no certain examples are known of that date. The traditional view, however, is that dovecotes were introduced by the Normans. The earliest known examples of dove-keeping occur in Norman castles of the 12th century (for example, at Rochester Castle, Kent, where nest-holes can be seen in the keep), and documentary references also begin in the 12th century. The earliest surviving, definitely-dated free-standing dovecote in this country was built in 1326 at Garway in Herefordshire.[6] The Welsh name colomendy has itself become a place name (similarly in Cornwall:colomen & ty = dove house).


Early purpose-built doocots in Scotland are of a "beehive" shape, circular in plan and tapering up to a domed roof with a circular opening at the top. In the late 16th century they were superseded by the "lectern" type, rectangular with a monopitch roof sloping fairly steeply in a suitable direction.[7] Phantassie Doocot is an unusual example of the beehive type topped with a monopitch roof, and Finavon Doocot of the lectern type is the largest doocot in Scotland, with 2,400 nesting boxes. Doocots were built well into the 18th century in increasingly decorative forms, then the need for them died out though some continued to be incorporated into farm buildings as ornamental features. However the 20th century saw a revival of doocot construction by pigeon fanciers, and dramatic towers clad in black or green painted corrugated iron can still be found on wasteland near housing estates in Glasgow and Edinburgh.[8][9]

Dovecotes of North America

In the U.S. an alternative English name for dovecotes is derived from the French: pigeonaire. This word is more common than "dovecote" in Louisiana and other areas with heavy Francophonic heritage.

Québec City, Canada, has a pigeonnier which stands in a square in Old Québec; the Pigeonnier is also the name of the square itself where street artists present their shows.


Their location is chosen away from large trees that can house raptors and shielded from prevailing winds and their construction obeys a few safety rules: tight access doors and smooth walls with a protruding band of stones (or other smooth surface) to prohibit the entry of climbing predators (martens, weasels…). The exterior facade was, if necessary, only evenly coated by a horizontal band, in order to prevent their ascent.

The dovecote materials can be very varied and shape and dimension extremely diverse:

  • the square dovecote with quadruple vaulting: built before the fifteenth century (Roquetaillade Castle, Bordeaux) or Saint-Trojan near Cognac)
  • the cylindrical tower: fourteenth century to the sixteenth century, it is covered with curved tiles, flat tiles, stone lauzes roofing and occasionally with a dome of bricks. A window or skylight is the only opening.
  • the dovecote on stone or wooden pillars, cylindrical, hexagonal or square;
  • the hexagonal dovecote (like the dovecotes of the Royal Mail at Sauzé-Vaussais);
  • the square dovecote with flat roof tiles in the seventeenth century and a slate roof in the eighteenth century;
  • the lean-to structure against the sides of buildings.

Inside a dovecote could be virtually empty (boulins being located in the walls from bottom to top), the interior reduced to only the structure of a rotating ladder, or "potence", allowing the collection of eggs or squabs and maintenance.


See also


  1. ^ Doocot Interior 1 photo - Duncan Smith photos
  2. ^
  3. ^ Les façades à boulins
  4. ^ Les tours-fuies: manoir de Toul-an-Gollet
  5. ^ "Photo". 
  6. ^ Spandl, Klara (1998) British Archaeology, London: Exploring the round houses of doves; Issue no 35, June 1998 ISSN 1357-4442
  7. ^ Doocots in Scotland
  8. ^ Foo’s yer doos – aye pickin?
  9. ^ Hiddenglasgow: doocots (dookits).
  10. ^ Stoddart, John (1800), Remarks on local Scenery and Manners in Scotland. London: William Miller;facing p. 206
  11. ^ Robert Stephenson (1986), Conversion of Listed 16th Century Dovecote.

Further reading and external links

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