Who Netted and Abducted Nearly 300 of Washington Square Park’s Pigeons?

Who Netted and Abducted Nearly 300 of Washington Square Park’s Pigeons?

Updated July 28th, 5:43 p.m.

memorial pigeons abducted washington square park 2015
Saturday’s memorial for the park’s missing abducted pigeons

300 Pigeons Seized and Abducted from Washington Square Park | Netted and Snatched in Broad Daylight to be Sold and Killed in Cruel Pennsylvania Live Shoots

For over ten years, there have been reports of mass pigeon netting – bird napping – going on in New York City. A van pulls up (it is almost always reported as white), men (it is always men) arrive at a location of a known, large pigeon flock, throw down bird seed, the birds congregate, are scooped up in a large net, thrown into the back of the van, and, at some point later, driven to Pennsylvania where they are sold, have their wings clipped, only to be shot out of a boxed contraption into the air, as targets in live canned shooting events. There are so many problems with this, it is hard to know where to begin.

But never would I think in broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon someone would dare to seize and capture the Washington Square Park pigeons in this manner which is what happened last Tuesday, July 21st. The park’s beloved pigeon population has now been decimated – somewhere between 250 and 300 pigeons are believed to have been abducted at that time and heading for this terrible fate. The incident is under investigation and being reviewed by the NYPD.

How did it happen?

Tina Trachtenberg, an artist and animal advocate (she creates the felt pigeons at Washington Square) organized a memorial for the pigeons at the park in the location many of them hung out on Saturday. By phone today, she said, “You can’t go into a park and take a tree, take a squirrel. That’s not there for us to take.”

Trachtenberg sent out this notice on Facebook the other day:

I received horrific news today. These innocent, trusting, loving, pigeons, approximately 300 of them were netted on Tuesday in Washington Square Park. The person who did this will transport them to Pennsylvania where they will have their wings clipped and be put into a mechanism that will shoot them in the air and men will shoot them for sport. These were my friends that I loved dearly. Please come to Washington Square park tomorrow for a memorial and to give love to me and all of the other people who loved them. Our hearts are crushed.

And today:

Tinas facebook post - Tina with Paul, another pigeon friend
Tinas facebook post – Tina with Paul, another pigeon friend

In Broad Daylight

The abduction took place around 3 p.m. Larry – a constant presence in the park, particularly around the pigeons -has been the source for much of the information. Trachtenberg said, “Most of my information came from Larry, he saw it happen, he saw the tail end of it. Someone came and told him [it was happening]. They were already pulling up the net and putting them [the pigeons] in the van. It was two people.” Larry told Tina it happened by the street entrance near the western end of the park (Washington Square West) which is still an area that someone must have witnessed this. Tina said, “It was 2 full nets.”

“The fact that people saw this happening [and just watched], Trachtenberg said. “People thinking ‘That’s just what the city does, they get rid of pigeons occasionally.'” [Ed. note: For clarification, they don’t.] She continued, “[In 2014] Legislation process got down to the wire [to stop this]. In Pennsylvania, you can also sell dog and cat meat; last year, people were trying to stop that and the pigeon shoots.”

Trachtenberg noted of the people who go through all the risk (the men with the vans) — “you know it is kitchen help or people who work at the slaughterhouses” – they only get $2 to $3 per pigeon they bring in yet the ones who are running the shoots are paid $50 per bird by those who shoot these helpless birds who cannot escape.

Trachtenberg laid out the scene: “Once they net them, they take the pigeons to a place in Brooklyn, they box them up with no water and no food, obviously they are very stressed, they then look at them — some have a broken wing or foot from the netting [ed. note: what happens to those?]; a couple days later, they are taken to Pennsylvania, sold as food, sometimes sold as quail, but for the pigeon shoots mainly. They clip their wings [so they cannot fly away]. The person who shoots the pigeon pays $50 per pigeon. They are very wealthy stupid people who find this fun and entertaining.

According to the SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) website, it is even worse than one might imagine:

These innocent animals are neither fed nor given water for days before the shooting starts, so that they will be easier targets. Suffering from dehydration and starvation, they are then launched out of small wooden boxes and into a storm of gunfire. Wracked with pain from searing buckshot lacerations, some will twist and fall from the sky with broken wings and backs. Other will escape, though death comes slowly for these poor birds for it may take days for them to succumb to their wounds.

Another park regular, William MacLeod, was featured in the New York Times about his appreciation of the park’s pigeons – some of them he rescued and raised as babies; he trained them to find their way back to his apartment window — the birds would hang out at the park during the day and then fly back to his apartment at night. He would walk through the park calling them and they would land on his shoulder.

MacLeod said he always knew there was “a risk.” “My pet birds – my five flyers are gone. There are 300ish birds in the park at any given time. I’ve counted about 30 are left.”

MacLeod said, “Unfortunately, this is happening a lot in the city. They [the pigeon netters] come, wait until nobody is around, throw seed down, net them, and throw them into a van. Larry is usually there [at the park] but they waited until he walked off. He saw them running to the van with a net. They can get 50-100 birds in one shot. [If approached] they will usually say, they ‘work for the city’ or that they are re-homing them. They may have done multiple rounds.”

2013 William MacLeod with his pigeons at the park
2013 William MacLeod with his pigeons at the park

** Before I go further, if you are someone who dislikes pigeons, you must read this!  21 Reasons you should Appreciate Pigeons **

WSP was “Balanced Eco-System” Previously

Pigeon Misinformation Abounds – Those who Make $$ from it, Seize on It

At Washington Square Park, you have [had] a balanced eco-system,” William MacLeod stated. “There are people who feed the pigeons regularly but that counts for maybe 20% of their food, the other 80% is from the grasses and other seeds [in the park] and food people throw away. The sparrows and starlings are not going to eat that. So what is going to happen is that you are going to see the rat population explode.”

MacLeod says that people and pigeon control companies throw out “misinformation” that the birds “carry disease” that people will get. They say “when you feed the pigeons you are feeding the rats.” But that is not true, William says.

“Someone leaves a falafel sandwich, leftover rice, and it sits there. The park doesn’t have someone coming every hour [to pick up trash]; the guys who do garbage do a good job but once off for the evening when the pigeons are still out, [garbage accumulates and they had taken care of it]. You are now going to see the rats increase. Plus NYU is doing construction across the street. The people [who are] saying ‘good riddance’ [is] due to all the misconceptions, all the misinformation people have about these birds.”

Missing pigeons Jaco and Jicky just turned 8 years old. William rescued them and then raised them from when they were 3 days old.

Pennsylvania bill banning Live Pigeon Shoots Could Stop Netting ; NRA Swooped In & Sabotaged it Last Year

MacLeod says, “The Parks Department is looking at the feed from the traffic cam there. The way to really stop this is a bill in Pennsylvania. There was a bill to stop live pigeon shoots and stop consumption of dogs and cats. It passed the Pennsylvania Senate but the House of Representatives killed it because the NRA came and do a campaign and said ‘You do this, and they will take guns away.'”

Tina's daughter, Rachel Tractenberg, on Instagram
Tina’s daughter, Rachel Tractenberg, on Instagram

What happens Now

The NYPD and the Parks Department are allegedly investigating in some form assisted by animal and wildlife advocates. People have to be vigilant and let’s make sure this does not happen again at Washington Square Park – or anywhere. [WSP Blog will get more information on the investigation.]

If you saw something last week, please contact this blog. Time is of the essence. Let’s stop this cruel practice!

Remembering the Washington Square Park Pigeons

Two of the remaining pigeons in the park are Tina Trachtenberg’s friends – “Dottie and Miranda – they don’t hang over there [near the capture area]. I was so glad to see they’re alive.”

Tina decided to honor the nearly 300 abducted pigeons who may now be dead via Saturday’s [July 25] memorial. She said it was “interesting to watch people’s response as they walked by. Some were like, ‘Who cares?’ and others were like, ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible.'”

In planning the memorial, she decided, “We’re going to buy flowers, talk about it and it was really helpful. My daughter was devastated. She’s 21 – she’s an animal advocate. She’s been posting on Instagram. It helped me and Larry [and the other pigeon friends and advocates]. It helped my heart and hers.”

The sign at the memorial summed it up perfectly:

This park is a safe haven for many animals. Today we mourn the tragic death of 200-300 resident pigeons. We loved and cherished their magical presence. They will be deeply missed.

* * *

Editor note: I loved that the pigeons of Washington Square Park had so many fans and friends. Those pigeons lived a mostly good life (other than threat from the hawks, and also still needing to survive). People – kids particularly – have learned to appreciate pigeons by the interactions at Washington Square Park. I have seen it happen. There are still pigeons left but this never should have happened.

If the authorities know as much detail as that the pigeons are being taken to Brooklyn, how is this not solved by now? Why can’t New York pass legislation that other states can not abduct its wildlife?


If you see pigeons being netted and captured, what to do:

The citys page on pigeon netting notes that pigeon trapping is not allowed unless permitted and will take complaints if this is witnessed but makes a distinction: “The City does not accept complaints about the use of nets to collect large amounts of pigeons (“netting”).” (i.e., trapping by men in vans.) ??

Call 911 if you EVER see this happening. (Call 311 if the incident had already occurred and the van and men are gone.) Take pictures. Get the license plate #. Yell.

From NYC.gov
From NYC.gov

Some pictures of the Washington Square Park pigeons:


Lady with pigeons 2014 (Larry in background)
Lady with pigeons 2014 (Larry in background)
Pigeon Flyover at Hot Dog Vendor Rally
Pigeon Flyover at “Hot Dog” Vendor Rally

NRA claims 11th hour victory in battle over live pigeon shoots Philly.com, October 22, 2014

If you’re still not convinced, read here: 21 Reasons you should Appreciate Pigeons

Photo 1&2: Deziree Lisa Lengal

Photo 3: via Tina Trachtenberg Facebook page

Photo #4: Julie Glassberg / New York Times

Photo #5: Rachel Trachtenberg Instagram

Photo #6,7,8: Cathryn