The Pigeon Master of Delancey Street

I saw the coolest thing as I was driving over the Williamsburg Bridge the other day…

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Above this building at the end of Delancey Street…

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I noticed a huge flock of birds circling overhead…Except, they never left the area. They just kept circling, and it soon became clear they were following something…

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That’s when I noticed these two guys on the roof, one of whom was leading the birds with a flag on the end of a very long pole. As he waved it in wide, swooping arcs, the birds would change direction – despite being at least 40 feet away.

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A bit of research reveals this to be the art of pigeon flying, in which a flock of domesticated pigeons (sometimes as many as 250 or more!) is taught to respond to signals like flagpole waves, find its way home, etc. I believe you can see part of his coop in the above picture.

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There’s a man in Williamsburg who also does pigeon-flying (from the roof of the Polonia Democratic Club, according to this New York Magazine article). I was once on a nearby rooftop in Williamsburg when I saw him “throw” his flock to a guy on a neighboring roof using their flagpoles. They passed the flock back and forth for at least an hour.

More info in this Daily News article on New York pigeon flyers (as well as rooftop beekeepers!).

-SCOUT

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12 comments

  1. Growing up here in Queens (specifically Astoria), you could always see trained flocks flying around. I haven’t seen one in years with the exception of a flock on Grand Avenue in Maspeth (which I assume is the shop mentioned in the Daily News article). Pigeons are disgusting animals, but it was always fascinating to see them flying in their endless circles.

  2. Is that “flag” being used in the Williamsburg example a Japanese Koi flag? Specifically blue for boys. (Flown on Children’s Day to indicate the number of boys in your home.) It certainly looks like it.

  3. I was visiting a local school when I saw a similar flight. I was enthralled, watching it all for a long time and always wondered about it. Now I know what it probably was – very cool!

  4. Very cool. I wrote a post last week on the last pigeon flyer in Morningside Heights. Will be posting soon about my visit to his rooftop. The birds that fly as you describe are called “flights” as opposed to homers or racing birds. They fly in a beautiful circles above their rooftop, then come back. Different breeds fly at different heights and in different ways. Canadians fly extremely high and stay up for hours.

  5. My building is located right next to this guy’s. Sometimes I go up on my roof and I’m right above his coop. I’ll just sit there and watch him (and his birds). It’s at once soothing and exhilarating.

  6. I don’t find pigeons disgusting, though I wouldn’t touch a city pigeon with a 10-foot pole. I actually have raised a lost pigeon chick, and they are actually quite affectionate and intelligent in their own way. They might be one of my favorite types of birds; I just got two tattooed on me tonight ;)

  7. Hi fellow Scout. For now I am here in Florida and saw.. amazingly..a flock near my location. My companion of the day just couldn’t figure out that French Flag. My Grandfather kept carrier pigeons in Wisconsin. Observing is a beautiful way to earn a living don’t you think ?

  8. theonewhoknowstorock

    …ever seen “ghost dog”? ;)

  9. Funny I just watched On the Waterfront tonight. Pigeons play a large part and in one scene he has a long pole with a flag on the end while on the roof of his apartment. Its not explained what he’s doing. Now i know.

    Thanks Scout.

  10. Geez, when I was a kid in Brooklyn in the 50′s through early 70′s, there were guys (always guys) raising pigeons on rooftops all over the place. I believe there are several movies and TV shows that incorporate that hobby into one or more scenes. I’m thinking Bobby Simone had a friend who kept pigeons on the roof of his apartment house in “NYPD Blue” and lets not forget the crazy Nazi in “The Producers.”

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