A bizarre scene played out on Sunday in front of several onlookers on West 72nd street, according to witnesses. At around 1 p.m., a man drove a van to the middle of the block between West End Avenue and Broadway in front of Joseph Pharmacy and City Veterinarian. Nadine, who was sitting at the bus stop in front of the pharmacy, explained what happened next:
“The driver left the car and threw bird seed on the sidewalk. Almost immediately there were a hundred or so pigeons. The driver went back to his car and came out with a huge net. He captured what he could and threw them in his car, people were snapping his picture and license plate.”
“It was traumatizing,” said Vicki Pajak, a receptionist at City Veterinary. She said she approached the man and asked him what he was doing. He told her he was collecting the birds for the Viola Pigeon Club in Coney Island.
“He said ‘Don’t worry honey I’m going to get that de-wormed and cleaned up.'”
We contacted the pigeon club and spoke to Peter Viola, the club secretary. “That’s not accurate,” he said when told that the man had claimed the pigeons were for his club. “We have specially bred pigeons from Belgium. We buy them from Brussels.” Viola speculated that the pigeon-stealer might be using the birds for religious purposes or to sell on the chicken (or “squab”) market.
Esther Koslow, who volunteers for the Wild Bird Fund, said that she suspects the pigeons will be sold to shooting clubs in Pennsylvania. She believes police need to get involved and arrest the people responsible. “No matter how you feel about pigeons, no animal deserves this.” NYPD has been contacted but it’s not clear yet if they plan to seek out the person responsible or press charges. It has been referred to the NYPD’s Animal Cruelty Unit.
Pigeon-snatching has been rumored to be going on for years. A few years ago, a group of concerned lawyers wrote to Pennsylvania lawmakers about their concerns that a pigeon-snatching ring was stealing New York pigeons for use on shooting ranges in Pennsylvania.
“According to the Heidi Prescott, a senior vice president for the Humane Society of the United States, the birds are often lured with food, then trapped in nets and taken in vans to pigeon brokers in Pennsylvania. The pigeon brokers act as middlemen, purchasing the birds for $2 a head, then often selling them to shooting ranges for $4 each.
The trap shooting events, which take place mostly in the fall and winter, largely occur at four shooting ranges in Bucks, Berks and Dauphin counties in eastern Pennsylvania.”
And the Village Voice wrote seven years ago about people who attempted to catch pigeon-stealers, but those people did not appear to be successful.
The laws on pigeon-trapping are somewhat complicated. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, whose office is on the same block as the pigeon-snatching (though she did not witness the incident) said that pigeons can be captured by the Department of Health or by someone who gets a permit from the Department of Health because the pigeons are a nuisance. The state Department of Environmental Conservation says that pigeons can be “taken” if they are a nuisance or are damaging property. This is supposed to be done in a “humane” fashion and with the proper permits.
“It’s hard enough to live in New York City without being snapped up for target practice,” Rosenthal said.
One Pennsylvania newspaper columnist called the pigeon-shooting events “grotesque.”
“They set up a bunch of “traps” — small wooden boxes — in the shooting ring. When a spring-loaded trap pops open, the dazed bird is propelled out, tries to flutter away and is blasted by lazy Elmer Fudds.”
Pennsylvania lawmakers have considered banning pigeon-shooting events. A bill passed the state senate earlier this year, but then an NRA-backed group intervened.
“Just last month the Senate voted 36-12 on a bill to enact such a ban. But days later, the Pennsylvania Flyers Victory Fund — a lobby for pigeon shooters, backed by the National Rifle Association — handed $1,000 checks to 17 members of the House Rules Committee, and a $3,000 check to House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny.
Turzai, who had promised a House vote, instead blocked the vote, and the bill died.”