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What is a Dovecote?

This week’s Ask the Craftsman question comes from Jennifer.

“I have these little pentagon shaped openings near my roof and I’m wondering if you can tell me what they are.”

Jennifer, it sounds like you’ve got dovecotes, which were a popular feature on mid-century storybook style houses.

A lot of folks mistake them for attic vents, and in all fairness, that’s all they usually are in mid-20th century houses.

Dovecotes
Image Copyright: Tiki Lisa

Dovecotes were traditionally found in the homes of nobility (ordinary citizens were not allowed to keep birds). Dovecotes are small openings that encouraged doves or pigeons to nest there so the occupants could catch and eat them and also use their droppings as fertilizer for their farms.

Sometimes dovecotes were separate birdhouses, and other times there were incorporated into the gables of houses.

In mid-century America, we didn’t eat pigeon meat much anymore, but that didn’t stop us from falling in love with the romantic styles of old Europe where the dovecotes were proudly displayed on the noble homes.

The Disney-esque storybook style of home that was popular in the 1950s and 1960s made use of this unique feature in a cosmetic sense only.

Most dovecotes in America are screened over on the inside to prevent birds or bats from using them. Some were a clever way to disguise attic vents, and still others simply led to spaces so small that no bird in their right mind would try to fit in there.

 

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2 thoughts on “What is a Dovecote?

  1. Very interesting, thanks for sharing this and all your experience! Several years ago I was in Cappadocia in Turkey and saw their thousand year old cave homes cut into the rock formations (I believe they are limestone). They are amazing and beautiful! I noticed that above/beside each one there were many small notches (a bit bigger than a softball) carved into the face of the rock. When I inquired about them a guide told me that they were to keep pigeons as they used the droppings for fertilizer and that no young man could get married without first having a house and a pigeon keep. It’s so neat the different ways people across the world were doing the same things!
    We got to stay in a modernized cave room at a hotel, it was so memorable! They also built underground (several stories down), it’s fascinating. I would definitely recommend checking Cappadocia out.

  2. Interesting that you touch on the subject of dovecotes. I’ve been studying them for awhile as I would like a brick dovecote built in my backyard. For the past several years I have had at least a dozen doves roosting in my back yard. Birding friends told me that they are bullies and keep the cardinals, which I so dearly love, at bay. So that gave me pause. Birders also warned that I wouldn’t want to have a working dovecote attached to the house ala the design you are talking about. They said it is very messy with bird droppings, but I like the look of the facade.
    In the last year or two the birds of prey have moved to the area and all I have left of my doves are a few piles of feathers from Hawks and owls capturing them. I’m still thinking of a small freestanding dovecote in the future though. Lovely European design examples online for inspiration.

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