Keeping & Homing Doves

The homing and keeping of doves

A dovecote is a beautiful addition to any garden, whether you choose to keep doves or not. But if you want to keep doves here are a few things for you to consider.

The dovecote

Make sure the structure has separate nesting compartments. This is important as each pair build a nest to guard and protect from the rest of the colony. If the cote has only one compartment the chances are you will only get one pair to settle.

Build quality – will the cote last more than a season?

Can the birds shelter from the weather?

Dovecotes for sale

Be careful of anyone who sells dovecotes but has very little or no knowledge about the birds. There are many reputable companies out there who, like us, offer advice and can supply you with garden doves or put you in touch with local breeders.

Pigeon or dove?

People have been keeping doves for centuries.

The garden dove and the fantail dove derive from the pigeon family.

Both species are descendants of the rock dove.

Fancy pigeon breeders would call a fantail a pigeon, whereas a dove keeper would prefer to call it a dove.

It’s a bit like someone being a Yorkshireman or an Englishman when in fact he may be both.

Whichever way you look at it – pigeons or doves – these are hardy birds that can survive our climate and have a strong homing instinct. Most importantly, they are the ONLY birds you can successfully introduce to colonise a dovecote.

There are other species of dove such as Java doves (also known as magicians’ doves) that are totally unsuitable for housing in a dovecote. These are aviary birds with no homing instinct.


The general rule is not to have the dovecote too near a wall or fence, this makes it too easy for predators such as cats to get at the birds.


Doves are not difficult to look after but you will initially need to ‘home them in’. ‘Homing’ is the method, or methods, used to settle the birds into your dovecote. Here is a general guide as to how it works.

Customers who order our Dovecotes will receive a more detailed guide with additional instructions and support – all part of the service we offer.

We recommend that you install the dovecote first and, depending on which methods you choose, have everything ready before taking delivery of the doves.

Homing nets: Here we use a net, which is put over the dovecote and spread out down to the floor and secured with pegs and planks, forming a temporary aviary. You will need to make it secure from foxes and other predators but also have access to get inside daily to feed and water the birds. Having some branches, or even a small bird table, will give the doves somewhere to perch. It is important that they are off the ground and in the dovecote at night. They naturally roost when it gets dark but sometimes need a helping hand. A lot of doves are bred in lofts so they are not used to the outdoors. We recommend three to four weeks before you release them. During this time they will become accustomed both to you and their new surroundings.

Homing box: A temporary wire mesh box that can be attached to the front of the dovecote. You will need one box per pair. This secures the doves in the dovecote while allowing them to come out and get accustomed to their surroundings. It is simple to use and reduces the risk of attack from predators.

With either method we recommend three to four weeks before you liberate the birds.

The homing net gives the doves more freedom, whereas the homing box means less time having to be devoted the bird’s safety.

Once the birds are homed in you will need to feed them once a day; they will find water and grit naturally around your home.

You will need to clean out the dovecote from time to time – usually after the birds have had youngsters that have flown the nest. We recommend lining the bottoms of the nesting compartments with our special felt liners. These make cleaning much easier. Throw the old one away and replace with a new one. The pattern is simple to copy and so you can make your own if you wish.

As with all livestock, doves will breed and multiply. You don’t need to buy six pairs for a six pair dovecote. To manage the numbers it is sometimes necessary to replace the two eggs with either pot dummy eggs or simply remove them, hard boil and then put them back. The birds always lay two eggs, usually a cock and a hen. They continue to sit on eggs until they realise they are infertile. They will then simply roll the eggs out of the nest.

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