Friday, August 8, 2008

More Pigeon-Nappings in New York City

New York Times article:

First, a confession. I am not a fan of pigeons. I have even eaten a pigeon, while on vacation in Egypt – more for the culinary adventure than revenge, but whatever the reason, I ate the bird and felt not a twinge of guilt.

Still, I was left rocked back on my heels this afternoon when I witnessed – for the first and hopefully only time – a pigeon-napping.

The curious incident happened in Columbus Park, a small oasis tucked behind the State Supreme Court complex on Centre Street, on the border of Chinatown.

The park itself is one of the more intriguing gathering spots in Manhattan. All day, elderly Chinese men play a Chinese version of chess as crowds gather to watch. There are other clusters of Chinese women playing card games. Little English is spoken. The lawyers and government functionaries who work nearby also swing through the small, unkempt grounds, but it is largely a Chinese crowd.

They sit not only on the benches and at the tables, but on rocks and the small slivers of earth surrounding the largely paved area.

In the western corner of the park, some men had hung cages with lovely songbirds in them, listening to their chirping as they sprawled out in the shade of the trees.

It was among this crowd that a burly white man in a blue shirt sat down.

He threw some crumbs on the ground in front of him and almost immediately, a flock of pigeons was at his feet.

Then, with a quick thrust of his right arm, he seized one of the birds. As the other pigeons scattered, he stuffed his captured prey into a large white box. We made brief eye contact. Then he bolted, thrusting his box with the rustling bird on his shoulder and disappearing into the crowded alley ways of Chinatown. I was mystified.

Was he capturing dinner? Taking the bird to his own flock to be raced or trained? Getting food for some voracious pet?

He was gone before I could ask, but a quick search on bird-napping revealed that it is topic that has come up in the past in the city.

The New Yorker reported last summer that residents in some neighborhoods were reporting a wave of pigeon robbers. A writer for the magazine was contacted by someone from “Bird Operations Busted, a self-styled pigeon-liberation outfit.” The man, who was not named in the story, said that generally, there were two kinds of birdnappers: “netters and hoopers,” referencing the tools used to capture pigeons.

There were enough incidents in Greenwich Village for The Villager, a community newspaper, to warn residents: “Someone is scooping up Village pigeons and no one knows why.”

But the man in Columbus Park was neither a netter nor a hooper, but rather a hand-scooper, and a deft one at that.

It calls to mind another man who captured pigeons in a public park to sustain himself during a particularly lean season: Ernest Hemingway.

In “A Moveable Feast,” Hemingway describes how he would wait for the gendarme at the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris to wander off for a break or a glass of wine and then seize a pigeon, dispatching quickly with a swift twist of the neck before taking it home to prepare to eat.

In New York City, it seems, there is no need to fear the law when it comes to pigeon hunting.

My estimable colleague Al Baker, who covers the Police Department, made a quick inquiry about the incident and was told there was no indication a crime had been committed.

Asked if a man grabbing a pigeon, stuffing it in a box and running was a crime of some sort, a straight-faced police spokesman said, “No, not really.” “There’s no real crime,” the spokesman said, adding that more facts would be needed. “Maybe he’s trying to save the pigeon’s life. You cannot say it is a crime, because there is nothing to conclude it is a crime.”

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