May 01, 2007
Pigeon Netting been going on for years...
Here is a news story from 2004!
The reports are usually the same: around dawn, near a city park or plaza, two men jump out of a van, the license plate often concealed with tape. They toss a handful of seeds, and when pigeons descend, they swipe the birds up in a net.
''We've been getting calls about this for years,'' said Mark MacDonald, a 32-year veteran with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York. He is also the organization's main pigeon expert.
Once captured, the pigeons are then driven to Pennsylvania, investigators believe, and sold to private gun clubs for use in live bird shooting.
''We never got enough evidence to go after the people moving the pigeons within the state and across state lines,'' said Clayton Hulsizer, a retired Pennsylvania A.S.P.C.A. officer who spent three years working under cover investigating the traffic in pigeons. ''But it was common knowledge that New York City played a role when it came to the supply side for the pigeons.''
Though accounts of the nettings seem to teeter on the edge of urban lore, the rare witnesses to the thefts swear by them.
One woman from the Upper East Side said that in the last six months she has seen netters on several occasions next to the East River on the jogging path near 76th Street. ''One of the guys looked at me staring at him and said, 'Keep walking lady, just keep walking,''' she said. Edwin, a Bronx pet store owner who breeds homing pigeons and asked that his last name not be used out of fear for his business, said the netters had been around as long as he could remember. ''Actually,'' he said, ''they're called hoopers because they use hoop-shaped hand-held nets.''
To most New Yorkers, street pigeons -- winged rats, they are sometimes called -- do not evoke either great affection or urgent concern. But no one disputes that pigeons have it hard enough without the threat of being captured and killed.
Crammed into a concrete jungle, the birds navigate a perilous world of electrified ledges, predatory hawks, rooftop glue traps and millions of disdaining pedestrians.
But they do have rights -- unlike privately owned homing and racing pigeons that usually live in rooftop coops, street pigeons -- which pigeon breeders call clinkers -- are considered property of the state, and it is illegal to harm them. And they do have their defenders, some of whom have been consumed with ending the illicit trade conducted by the netters.
''The negative attitudes toward these beautiful creatures are ridiculous,'' said Al Streit, founder of Pigeon People, a group of 20 organizing members with a 300-person e-mail list. The group, which meets once a month, works to remind the public that pigeons are just like any other bird, he said. Their waste ''is no dirtier than the sparrows','' he said. ''So why the discrimination?'' ...
The world and workings of the netters remain murky. Nobody seems to know of any arrests. The vans and trucks that many insist transport the birds and deliver them to the gun clubs have not been stopped.
''The problem has been that the nettings occur in 15 seconds or less,'' said Mr. MacDonald, of the New York A.S.P.C.A.
But Don Bailey, a part-time truck driver who often transports birds, says the trade exists. Until 1999, Pennsylvania was home to the Hegins Pigeon Shoot, one of the oldest and most heavily attended annual shooting events in the country. The shoot attracted more than 5,000 spectators for Labor Day weekend and often left an estimated 6,000 pigeons dead. Mr. Bailey said he was one of the truckers who provided birds for the Hegins shoot.
''Some guys moved them from Philly and New York City, but I never did,'' he said. Mr. Bailey said that all of the pigeons he shipped to Hegins came from teenage farm boys in Pennsylvania who gather up the birds from barns and granaries and sell them for a dollar or two each.
The Hegins shoot was ended after years of pressure from animal rights advocates, but live shoots still exist in private gun clubs around Pennsylvania.
And Mr. Bailey said he did not think, in truth, that grabbing pigeons in New York for use in the shoots was such a bad idea.
''Thinning out the population in New York City is a good thing, right?'' he asked.
Some people, obviously, think not.
Anna Kugelmas is the director of the New York Companion Bird Club, a group with 60 members. Ms. Kugelmas started her group because she was tired of people yelling at her every time she threw seeds on the street, she said. In New York City, feeding pigeons in public areas is legally considered littering.
''Loving pigeons can be a pretty lonely affection in this city,'' she said.
She has a point: of the approximately 300 pigeon-related calls to 311 per month, city data shows, roughly half are complaints about people feeding them. The other half are complaints about the birds' feces.
''The city has plenty of places to call if you want them removed or killed, but nowhere to call if you want them helped because one has a broken wing,'' said Margaret, a member of the club who spoke on the condition that her last name not be used.
Several people devoted to rescuing and healing injured or stranded pigeons say that more ought to be done and that there needs to be more oversight by the government when it comes to pigeons.
''There is a real lack of policy when it comes to urban wildlife,'' said Johanna Clearfield, director of the Urban Wildlife Coalition, a group that does what it can for squirrels, sparrows and pigeons in New York City.
Ms. Kugelmas agreed. ''If Bernard Goetz can be the city's main squirrel rehabber, which he is, then you know there is a real void here,'' she said, referring to the man who shot four teenagers on a subway train in 1984.
But for pigeon advocates, the netters remain a top concern, and some lament that no one is bold enough to take them on.
There is, though: Bird Operations Busted.
''We're the hard-core part of the pigeon movement,'' said Bob, who asked that his last name not be used but who is the founder of Bird Operations Busted, an organization that has about 15 members.
''Our aim is to unveil the mafia of netters,'' he said in hushed tones, seated in an Upper West Side cafe.
The first challenge, he said, involves surveillance. Members of the group have disposable cameras in case they happen upon a netter in action, he said. The group has also installed hidden video cameras at several spots in Manhattan.
Gordon King, 71, a retired lawyer who is working pro bono for the group, said that the goal was to collect evidence and eventually compel state officials to investigate illegal nettings.
But Bob acknowledges it will not be easy.
The wireless video cameras that the group uses are expensive, he said. Their installation in public spaces requires discretion.
The group is also collecting a paper archive of witness accounts of netting sightings from across the city, complete with license plate numbers and descriptions of suspects, he said.
''Sometimes,'' Bob said, ''you have to do a lot to get the smallest injustices corrected.''