minivan pigeons
A van filled with pigeons pulls away from the curb on West 72nd street. Photo from a witness.

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.”

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 48 comments | permalink
    1. Josiah says:

      My family and I saw this exact same scenario unfold around noon the same day on the west wide of Broadway between 87th and 86th sts.
      The man sped away in a car, not a van.
      My guess is there are more than two collectors out there…

    2. denton says:

      Let’s hope he comes back every week until these rats with wings are under control. lol.

      • Ingrid says:

        Those of you with callous comments about the birds — where in this life did you lose your hearts? These are animals with incredible intelligence and sensitivity — who were actually trained to serve human beings throughout history, as messengers of critical importance during times of peace and war. Many humans — even those here with the hubris to wish cruelty upon animals — might not even be here but for the relationship and symbiosis humans have shared with these birds historically.

        Pigeons are not viral carriers of disease — that’s a lie disseminated pest control companies who need the business. And the “rats with wings” comment comes from a Woody Allen film, a sadly mistaken idea that has served to demonize these birds. Perhaps you’re not old enough to remember that we Americans didn’t always view these birds with such disdain.

        Lastly, if you have even an ounce of compassion left inside that pip of a heart, please take time to watch the videos of those pigeon shoots — and the suffering and flailing birds left to bleed in the fields after shooters get their jollies from using them as living targets. If you still hold strong to your views, then I suppose there’s no hope of appealing to your kindness and mercy.

      • Sally Smile says:

        The cruelty in many of these comments is sad but is a big part of too many people’s attitudes both on the Internet and on the UWS these days.

        Just imagine one of these pigeons, which are scooped up by the dozen and thrown into the back of a van, was your pet cat or dog, or your kids pet rabbit or hamster, scared and struggling for it’s life? How would you feel then?

        Now try to transfer that feeling onto these birds who were brought here, many of them raised and domesticated by humans. This is their home now because humans made it that way. The least we can do is treat them humanely.

        Empathy is not dead yet, but it is definitely sorely lacking in far too many people these days.

      • Brian says:

        LOL are you serious? whats next? will all you morons be concerned for the giant street rats?? It’s the same thing except Pigeons have wings rats don’t.

    3. Sarah says:

      I saw the same thing happen, also with a van, about a year ago around 89 and Columbus.

    4. Ken says:

      I saw the same van do the same thing at the same location last spring. I called the police and several other agencies and none of them took any interest

    5. Bob says:

      take all ya want

    6. WombatNYC says:

      We need more of this Man in a Van .. Get rid of these dirty birds .. We need to systematically exterminate and this is a great start ! Keep up the good work

    7. Andrew Kaplan says:

      I’ve read some of the callous comments below by people who think this is funny. We live in a world where violence is erupting everywhere, all initiated by humans. Its bad enough we do it to each other, but then to do it to animals, and for what….the “sport” of shooting them for fun?” This is fun? WHO ARE WE? THIS IS NOT OK!

      • Sam says:

        While I agree that it may not be “funny”, it’s certainly not doing the community a disservice. The pigeon population is huge and with few natural predators and an abundance of food it will only continue to increase.

        Some people like to shoot pigeons for sport, that’s their issue. You don’t need to agree with their choice of recreation, the people doing the shooting are not breaking the law.

        • SA_NYC says:

          I think that was part of the point of the article: that your friendly local NRA is behind it continuing to be legal.

    8. Lisa says:

      Why black out the license plate of the creep who did this? It is, after all, a criminal act. We should be publishing pictures of their cars, license plates, and faces far and wide.

      • Upper West Side Wally says:

        Unless you are 100% sure that this is the ‘creep/hero’, you better black out the license plate, because you open yourself to a lawsuit. (How dare you soil my good name, I didn’t do it…)

    9. m.pipik says:

      Andrew K. thank you for your comment.

      How is this method of shooting real pigeons any better than shooting clay ones? Cheaper?
      They don’t even give the pigeons a fair chance. How sporting is that?

    10. Sassy Lou says:

      Uh..shouldn’t the PIGEON SHOOTERS be arrested and charged??? That was this wouldn’t happen.

    11. Jay Kampel says:

      I saw the same thing happen on the East Side several years ago. I hate those pigeons, but it was very upsetting. In fact it looks like the same van. I called the police who were totally uninterested. Their comment, referring to the birds, not the thief, “they are just rats with wings”.

    12. ALLY says:

      This incident sounds like it’s for the hunt in PA, but the same thing has also been reported in Queens. In one case, the police apprehended a bird thief who admitted he sells pigeons to local Chinese restaurants, which falsely serve them as “chicken.” You have been warned.

    13. Jade says:

      That guys must have been patrolling the UWS that day. I was coming back from a run in CP and I saw a man catch a whole net of pigeons at 11.45 am at 97th and Columbus across the street of the Associate Supermarket. Once the net was filled, he tied it up, threw it into the van and drove off. Same care as in the picture!

    14. Reynold says:

      People couldn’t trap pigeons for shooting if other people didn’t first attract them by feeding them. We have a huge overpopulation of pigeons and it is an unsanitary nuisance. There are many dozens of pigeons roosting and defecating on our building’s window sills at W. 69th St. every day. At our owners’ meeting residents said they are afraid to open their windows because pigeons could fly in, and dust from dried feces could blow in. Why do we have to live like this? There is a sign “Please Do Not Feed the Pigeons” but these unbalanced miscreants do it anyway. There is zero police presence but Lincoln Square BID sanitation workers are trying to deal with it. In return, some of pigeon people are abusive, according to the workers I have spoken to. They have actually physically attacked workers with canes and shopping carts.

      • ELJ says:

        I’m with you. It makes me really angry to see people throw bread and seeds to pigeons in NYC. Do they really think the pigeons can’t find food on their own?

    15. ROB says:

      Don’t think abducting pigeons to set them up for NRA goons to shoot should be legal and as much as I don’t like the damage the birds do this is no way to attack the problem (or the birds, either). Need some rules and regulations here as well as the intervention by law enforcement. What happens when a car or van speeds off with its prey and hits a pedestrian?

    16. Melissa says:

      Did you know that pigeons are actually Rock Doves and very beautiful animals. No comments or jokes please. They originated in the South West United States and have managed to adapt and survive in NYC. They see our buildings as rock canyons. If you look closely the males have a beautiful iridescent throat.

      They also say that if someone is cruel to an animal what’s next. They are fully capable of being cruel to their fellow human beings. This sounds like a ring and they need to be caught and dealt with. The money the politicians collected in Pennsylvania – if true – is the equivalent of a bribe. Was it campaign money or was it outright?

    17. WombatNYC says:

      A pigeons should be exterminated !- RATS with WIngs !

    18. Walter Sobchak says:

      The “pigeon snatcher” is a public benefactor. He should be rewarded not reviled.

      Pigeons are vile, nasty, disease ridden, vermin, no better than rats. Target practice is a fitting use for them.

    19. Fred says:

      Get rid of them all. Who cares what happens to them there are a real problem with the Bridges. My brother inlaw spends 25 hours a week tossing pigeon nests out from under the bridges all year long. they are destroying them

    20. Juan says:

      I dislike pigeons generally but they don’t deserve this fate. Many of the the comments here (the ones tacitly and otherwise condoning the unlawful capture and slaughter of these birds) are among the worst I’ve come across on this site, and I’m rather ashamed to be associated with *these* UWS jerks.

      All that aside: now that his license plate is common knowledge to the authorities, how easy must it be to track him down and arrest him (and any of his colleagues)?

    21. Sarnn says:

      Some of the comments on here are cruel and unbelievable. Sure, many may consider pigeons dirty pests, but they are still able to feel fear and pain.. they certainly don’t deserve to die this way. People that make a quick buck doing these nasty actions should be apprehended.

    22. Mike says:

      Just curious – if this guy was baiting rats and mice who feast on some of the garbage outside buildings or on the street, and was snatching them up for whatever purpose (other than that whole Chinese food comment that was made), would anyone be crying animal cruelty? Why is one filthy breeder of disease better than another? What this guy is doing is definitely unseemly, but it could just as easily fall under animal control as animal cruelty. I’d just hate to EVER end up as a passenger in that van…

      • Becky says:

        How ignorant and uneducated some are..
        To call these docile birds filthy breeders of diseases..
        Mike must have heard that from some animal hater, and one thing lead to another. Now they are filthy breeders of disease.
        Mike if you are so smart find a disease that is spread on humans.
        Find me evidence where humans have died of pigeon transmitted diseases.
        God all you are ignorant and most of all very dumb Americans.
        Only Americans lack the respect of any living being.

        • Upper West Side Wally says:

          Pigeons are known to carry and transmit diseases to humans through their droppings, especially when the feces dry and particles become airborne. Diseases spread by pigeons include aspergillosis, candidiasis, cryptococcosis, encephalitis, histoplasmosis, Newcastle disease, ornithosis, salmonellosis, and toxoplasmosis.
          For further information:

          And your reference to Americans was uncalled for.

        • Lilly says:

          It if unfortunate that you feel that “Americans” do not appreciate our own pigeons.. we do.. but in moderation. In the past ten years they have seem to multiply due to the efforts of those who are new to our shores and e4specially this city. There have been many mornings as I left my large apartment building, headed for work that I have come upon this young man, dressed somewhat like a ninja in a crouched position — feeding pigeons on our building’s property amid signs posted in our hedges and other foliage that state: PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE PIGEONS. It is clear that this sign did not mean anything to him, for he comes daily and does not realize (or care) that our maintenance staff has to wash the sidewalks surrounding our development and the large plaza — twice a day due to his “farm-like activities.” He is also not aware of the sour stench that comes from their dried droppings that greet us on our air-conditioners, window sills and terraces. In other words he does not care. Nor do the many others who feed them as if Manhattan is some sought of farm land. After all there are still some places in this city where people have roosters crowing and disturbing their neighbors. When did all this become legal?

          This is not Capistrano or the Trevi Fountain.. so if there is someplace that these pigeons can be safely transported where they can live out their lives, be an asset and admired, then I suggest that you and those of your elk get in touch with Animal Control or whomever to make that happen and lessen our pigeon population. You will become our heroes.

    23. Don Price says:

      Yuck! Why not put the shooters in a similar box and see how they fare in front of “sharp shooters”!

    24. Deborah says:

      God help me if I ever witnessed that ! I would be a hurt woman because it would take all my strength to paralyze that man!!!! I would choke him to death !!! After all the hard work we put into volunteering and saving those birds! Breaks my heart ! They will be savagely murdered by some pompous arrogant coward in PA at a pigeon shoot! Very Sad

    25. Frank says:

      An animal rights group called SHARK has been valiantly fighting the cruel pigeon shoots in PA. Here’s the latest newsletter.

    26. Deb says:

      So sad and brutally murdered. We put so much work into rehabilitation to only be destroyed. I hope I never see that happen, I feel sorry for the person driving because I will snap !

    27. Jessica says:

      Disgusting!! Pigeons are war heros!! They saved many soldiers by carrying messages even after being shot at. This is the treatment they get?! They are living, feeling souls!! They are great parents and great companions! They don’t spread disease! I have one living in my house and she is part of my family and I love her more than half the people I meet.

    28. Ashley says:

      No animal (or person) deserves to be treated cruelly, regardless of if you happen to like or dislike them – all creatures can suffer and feel pain. Pigeons mate for life, love to bathe and preen (mine take several baths per day), and are intelligent birds who have learned to persevere in a human-created environment despite challenges.

    29. Laurie stern says:

      Pigeons are really smart and lovable animals. An injured homing pigeon came in my car door a few years ago and I took him to our local wildlife rehabilitation canter and they fixed him up and he met a female in their rehab aviary, and I built an aviary for them as they can’t be released in the wild because of their injuries. I adore them! Who knew how sweet and devoted they are to their mates. I love them and enjoy their antics and company every day. They’re smart and funny too. These peoe should be ashamed of themselves and arrested for animal creulty. Live and let live.

    30. Susanne Hoshino says:

      Dirty rotten Pennsylvania politicians ought to be ashamed of themselves! Pure greed! Voters, How can you trust anyone who can be bought?
      Cruelty and greed will be their downfall.
      Karma will have no mercy on these pigeon collectors

    31. naro says:

      I wish that the legal and illegal immigrants from cultures where they eat grilled rats kebabs would come to NYC and steal as many rats as they desire.

    32. Sarnn says:

      I’ve always wondered what kind of person works at a slaughterhouse, as it takes a special person to be able to look past the fear and pain that writhes in their hands.

      Now I know what kind of person it is — the callous people in this thread that are rooting for the pigeon snatchers — people with zero compassion.

    33. Brian says:

      NYPD answers the call “oh really? mmhmmm ahhh well that certainly is concerning, we’ll get right on that” click … hey boys some idiot just called in a pigeon snatching (entire squad house rolling on floor laughing)

    34. Paula says:

      We have pictures of this same van in our neighborhood and a witness who saw the man feed and net the pigeons. This guy has got to be stopped. This happened on a Sunday morning in Battery Park City so this guy is going everywhere.

    35. Rudy Rassendyll says:

      This particular perp, in this very van has been photographed in the act. It has been tracked to a Brooklyn garage. We know where this fecal matter hangs out. It has been reported. Civil servants & electeds don’t choose to act; DEC refuses to act (and the very foolish assemblymember is mistaken; these birds get transported across state lines, a violation of both Fed & state law). The birds die horribly so a bunch of yahoos of both sexes from PA can play with their tools.

    36. Vocal Tune says:

      I saw this happen at Madison ave near 420. I was on my way there for a pick up and just see a man with a giant net to catch a couple of pigeons. He grabbed one is his hand roughly to prevent its escape and drove off. I think these pigeons are food to him. Yikes