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News: What Do Pigeons and Doves Have in Common?


September 17, 2020

From the GCA Collection at the Archives of American Gardens

What do pigeons and doves have in common? When asked this question, many won’t have much to say except that they are both birds. You might be surprised to find that one thing they have in common is found in a number of gardens today, dovecotes.

Pigeons and doves have a long history of commonalities starting in the Middle Ages. During medieval times both birds were bred not for recreational purposes but as a source of food, in the form of meat and eggs, as well as fertilizer. Stone buildings (typically round in shape) called dovecotes were built to shelter these birds. (The Old English cote denotes a small hut or cottage). These dovecotes were ringed with nesting boxes or ‘pigeonholes’ for the birds to roost in and from which eggs and dung were collected. The structures were usually built as part of a lord’s estate and often mirrored the architecture of the main house. Only privileged nobles were granted permission to have dovecotes. They were indeed a status symbol!



Cottage Gardens, Natchez, MS. March, 2005.

Sarah G. Tillman, photographer.

Rynwood, Glen Head, NY. c. 1930s.

Hand-tinted glass lantern slide.


Dovecotes found in gardens today serve more often as a decorative feature than as a utilitarian structure. Their scale—as opposed to birdhouses that are much smaller and snugger—makes them the perfect size for a small garden shed or shelter. While the reputation of pigeons has undergone a significant decline since the Middle Ages, the dovecote remains a handsome element in many gardens.

Documenting a garden for The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens is anything but a ‘flight of fancy’. Each component in a garden—like a dovecote—deserves to have its story told.

Images from The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens 

By Brittany Spencer-King, Smithsonian Gardens Intern, June 2012.


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