Washington Square Regulars: William MacLeod & Park Pigeons in New York Times

Friday’s New York Times featured a piece, a “character study,” on park personality, William MacLeod (right). MacLeod rescued two baby pigeons he found in Washington Square Park one day six years ago, rehabilitated them to health, and then re-released them in the park. He has named them, knows which ones they are and they know him and fly to his shoulders.

MacLeod is regularly near the Washington Square fountain engaging and educating park-goers about pigeons, helping to dispel some of the myths about them. Some of the pigeons sleep on his nearby apartment windowsill at night and then return to the park during the day. Initially, another of the park’s personalities (and pigeon fixture), Paul Zig, enlightened him about pigeons; he then released his previous bias and dislike of them, and became a fan.

Washington Square Park is one place that the pigeons are appreciated by a wide contingent of people.

Not Flying Rats, to Him, New York Times, August 2, 2013:

William MacLeod says he was always in the “rats with wings” camp regarding New York City pigeons, until one day six years ago in Washington Square Park, where he spied a pair of chicks on the ground. He nurtured them for weeks and released them back into the park.

“This is Jaco and his brother Jicky,” he said on Tuesday, introducing the two adoptees, all grown-up with handsome reddish plumage. He spotted the pair immediately in a flock of dozens feeding in the park, and they came to his call and perched on either shoulder.

“I’m their human,” said Mr. MacLeod, 47, as he billed and cooed with them and fed them from a bag of nuts and seeds in the pocket of his suit jacket.

Of the several hundred pigeons that gather daily in the park during the day — they roost on nearby buildings at night — Mr. MacLeod recognizes and has names for perhaps 40 of them. Seven of those are his adopted birds, including Jaco and Jicky and their offspring — Jicky begot Dean, who begot Pinot, etc. — and a couple of rescues.

Jaco was named after the electric bass player Jaco Pastorius, whom Mr. MacLeod, also a bass player, said he watched playing in Washington Square for money. Mr. MacLeod splits his time between a house on Long Island and a pied-à-terre in the West Village, where on weeknights his pigeons spend the night roosting.

“They’re waiting there on the window sill when I get home,” he said. Mr. MacLeod said he himself was adopted, and grew up largely in Stuyvesant Town, loving and loved by unlikely animals like squirrels and unfriendly dogs.  

Mr. MacLeod, whose [real estate] office is nearby on East 10th Street, visits the park on weekdays and musters his birds like a drill sergeant.

“It’s kind of like going home in the middle of the day and playing with your cat or dog,” he said, standing with some of the other pigeon lovers in the park, including Paul Zig, 55, who is known as Pigeon. Mr. Zig, a local fixture always draped in pigeons that feed from his hands, helped convert Mr. MacLeod.

There was Larry Reddick, 47, who picked up the pigeon habit while living on a park bench here, and there was Doris Diether, 86, the well-known local preservationist who has adopted her own pigeon, also named Doris.

See the rest of the Times‘ piece here.

(I worry a bit that this is the kind of park ‘flavor’ the Conservancy founders will decide does not fit into their “safe, clean and beautiful” mantra. I hope they realize that would be an error.)

Photo: Julie Glassberg / New York Times

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