Dovecotes were always part of Moscow’s urban landscape, so trivial that people stopped noticing them. For many Muscovites street pigeons are largely ignored or unnoticed, or considered agents for spreading diseases in the city, which is a common misconception. However, for some people, pigeons are life-long companions who fill the dull city environment with charm and character. 

Dovecote owners are a unique cast of determined people who despite all the complexities of life in the modern metropolis carve out from the city the right for bird houses to exist. 

Last fall, after reading an article about dovecote owners I became determined to shoot a photo story about them. I started searching for dovecotes in various neighborhoods of Moscow and getting acquainted with their owners. 

I was surprised to learn of the different variety of dovecote styles and architectural forms. Some dovecotes are standalone structures which look like small Russian fairytale houses with brightly painted facades and interesting architectural forms. Yet there are others which lack character and are nested right on top of the garages or temporary structures. In these bird houses the dovecote owners spend the most part of the day carrying for their birds. Many dovecote owners try to make the birds’ habitat attractive and appealing by planting flower gardens and trees around dovecotes. 

The dovecote owners are people of different gender, age, social status and income, but they all are united by unconditional affection for their birds.  Tatiana, one of the dovecote owners, was saving money to buy a car for the family, but instead, spent it all on renovating  the dovecote. Another dovecote owner, Anatoly Gennadievoch, a retiree living in the historic city center, despite his age and fragile health, every weekend travels to a distant flea market to buy grain for his pigeons. Mingaukas Vaitus, a retired professional athlete from the Baltics who moved to Moscow over 40 years ago, built a separate room on top of his dovecote in order to be close to his birds all the time. 

I started working on this photo story last fall. It includes the stories of seven dovecote owners, the story about the local birds’ market called “Dove’s Heaven,” and a story about the annual all-Russian dove and pigeon expo.

— Katerina Slesar