White Doves

Space requirements

White doves on dovecote.Either a free-standing wooden dovecote set in the lawn or a wall-mounted design will be needed if the birds are to fly freely around the neighbourhood. Set the supporting pole of the former into a fence-post anchor, to prevent the timber rotting, and support wall-mounted dovecotes with brackets from below, to prevent them from collapsing. Dovecotes are traditionally white so the birds can spot them easily when airborne.

Care requirements

Provide a mixed pigeon corn, as well as grit, which will help them to digest their food. Females typically lay clutches of two eggs in special nest trays. Their young are called squabs. They grow quickly, nourished on a diet of high protein ‘crop milk’ produced by both parents. Young doves become known as squeakers once they are well-feathered, because of the noises they make at this stage. They leave the nest between 3-4 weeks old, being very vulnerable to cats and foxes at this stage, plus birds of prey. 


Cock birds may become rather aggressive when breeding, but youngsters are very gentle and trustworthy, and can be handled easily. This is why white doves have traditionally been used by magicians in their acts, as these birds have such calm natures.


Fantailed doveThere is a ornamental white fantail form, whose long tail feathers open rather like a fan. These are seen at shows and generally kept in aviaries because their long feathers mean they are more at risk from predators.  Garden fantails have less developed tails, and there are also white garden doves which have tail feathers like ordinary street pigeons.


All these birds are descended from rock doves, which are now rare around the coast of Britain. Monasteries started to maintain dovecotes from Saxon times, initially of wood, but then they became massive stone-built structures, housing thousands of birds. The young squabs provided a source of food. It was the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll who first introduced dovecotes into gardens as a decorative feature during the 1920s.

Did you know?

Puzzled by what’s a pigeon or a dove? There’s actually no zoological difference between them, although smaller members of the group tend to be known as doves. The tradition of releasing these birds at weddings probably arose because white symbolises purity, and it used to be believed that they mated for life. But like marriages which end up in divorce, these doves do not necessarily stay together if they have a choice, and individuals are likely to pair up again if a partner dies.
White dove on black


Typically 8-10 years.

Likely illnesses

They are vulnerable to canker, which is commonly acquired from wild birds. Protect free-flying doves against this microscopic parasitic infection by giving preventive medication in their drinking water. Signs of this potentially fatal infection can be pale yellowish patches in the mouth, combined with weight loss. Young birds are especially vulnerable, soon after fledging. They can acquire the infection in the nest while being fed by their parents, who may be showing no obvious signs of the microscopic Trichomonas parasite which causes it.

For more information about dovecotes, click here