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

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50 thoughts on “Who Netted and Abducted Nearly 300 of Washington Square Park’s Pigeons?”

  1. I agree that it is shocking that someone would round up pigeons in this way (assuming this is true). But I have always thought there were way too many pigeons in WSP, and that the people who feed them unnecessarily increase the population of a bird that is mostly a nuisance. Also, while some argue that pigeons eat food that otherwise would be available to rats, I disagree. I think that those who feed pigeons are inadvertently feeding rats as well. The solution isn’t more pigeons, it’s keeping the park clean and controlling the slobs.

    Next, animal advocates will be complaining about rats being eradicated. They are more disgusting than pigeons (which many people find disgusting as well – no offense), but why should that be a reason to discriminate against them? Then they’ll start defending roaches.

    • The way that these pigeons will be killed is disgusting. If the numbers needed to be reduced, then that would be up to the park, not someone looking to profit off of a bloodsport. Stealing them and torturing them is completely unacceptable.

    • Pigeons breed year round because we bred them like that. They will do so whether we feed them or not – some even say that underfed, stressed birds, will breed even more. City pigeons are feral pets, not wild birds and we have some responsibility for them, because without humans bringing them to the cities, back when we used and cherished them for food, companionship and messaging, they wouldn’t be there in the first place. Essentially starving them is not an ethical population control in my opinion, nor is killing them (a method that is even scientifically proven not to work – it increases the population eventually). The only sensible thing is installing dovecotes and swap the eggs with fake ones. This has proven the most successful method in population control.

      Also people find pigeons disgusting mainly through misinformation. That’s not the pigeons fault. I personally find a city park with no pigeons severly lacking.

      • Thanks for the interesting info about what works and doesn’t work in controlling pigeon population. I agree that pigeons have a place in parks. I just don’t like it when there are so many that it seems that they are going to fly into your face.

  2. My heart is broken. I came to the park today, Monday July 27th, and on top of the Washington arch was a single pigeon where there used to be hundreds. These birds have brought so much love and joy to those of us who came to the park to feed them -some came every day – and to the many others visiting our city. I am grateful for the ones we still have and mourn the loss of all the others. Betty

  3. What police precinct is in charge of WSP?
    Cathryn, you write: “The incident is under investigation.” Is this your assumption or did you interview a police officer to get this information? If so, which police officer?
    How can we apply pressure on police to treat this seriously?

  4. Many of these birds are readily identifiable, especially William’s. If the police know where they have been taken perhaps they can be identified so that we can have a recovery.

  5. Seth, I guess I am an inclusionist (?) and try to include all species into some kind of protection. I also look into whether biases which have been built up against them (which often has something to do with an industry that profits) are accurate.

    The pigeons eat all the seed that is left for them and so I do not think that is an issue. It is a large park and maybe there were *a lot* of pigeons (who determines? sometimes there are too many people!) but they fit within the 9-10 acres. Yes, as far as rats — which I believe is also a species that gets lobbied against — clearly, adequate trash maintenance and people picking up after themselves is key.

    notnr, yes, agreed, this is horrifying and not something *someone* should be doing, rounding them up for profit and sport. They are wildlife that live in the park which is what Tina Trachtenberg was saying: you cannot just *take* them – especially knowing the path leads to such cruelty

    betty, I understand your sadness. The pigeons definitely have brought a lot of joy to people who visit the park. I wanted to go into that aspect a bit more but there was so much to the actual incident. Perhaps in a follow-up.

    Tamara, it is the Sixth Precinct. Apparently the authorities are looking into this, per the Humane Society. I hope to do a follow-up on the investigation as I noted. It is true about taking it seriously and since there are so many cameras monitoring in and around Washington Square Park (for better or worse), perhaps they could be put to good use.

    Mary, I dont think they know the exact location but how they know Brooklyn is the holding area in general is a good question. I will try to find out. I was told by Tina that she was told that these people move quickly and it may be too late – that being said, it does seem like there needs to be some kind of a sting operation – people ready to follow the van if they witness this!

    Thanks for your concern and your comments.


    • Cathryn, you may be on to something with your comment that maybe there are sometimes too many people (as opposed to pigeons) in the park — maybe someone should round them up with nets!

      • Ha, Seth! Glad you think I may be on to something here!

        (ed. note: Not advocating netting of any species but it is true there are something too many people at the park!)

  6. I spoke to the Sixth Precinct yesterday. They are NOT investigating.

    Were we to have a license plate number– which we don’t– they would bump it to Animal Care and Control. So said the officer I spoke with last night.

    Animal Care and Control has no enforcement division, so what on earth would *they* do? They could run the license plate number, I guess.

    But according to an Officer at the 6th Precinct this is not their job and they wouldn’t investigate, even if we gave them a license plate.

    • Hi Tamara, thanks for following up. It is not necessarily under domain of Sixth Precinct but thanks for contacting them – good for them to know people care! Will write more when I get more info.


    • Hi Brad,

      Would love to get word from someone who witnessed this — from what I have been told, it seems it was on the western side near the street and there IS slightly less traffic other there although, of course, someone must have seen this!

      And yes we need people to be aware & take action and be ready should it ever occur again!


  7. Could these men who took the 300 pigeons be the NY city wildlife division. Several thousands of Canadian geese with goslings were recently caught and stuffed into crates by the hundreds and taken somewhere to be killed, ordered by the governor of New York. Because of the airlines and their reason was they airlines didn’t want the geese to migrate because the jets have taken over the migratory paths of the geese.
    These pigeons have been taken to a sports arena shooting range in New York City, another order from the governor of New York.
    take this to http://www.change.org and petition the sporting assoc. through the court of law.
    Thank you in advance, Shirley M. Frias

    • Hi Shirley,

      Thanks for your comment. I know what you are talking about and that is a slightly different situation with the rounding up being done by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) of resident Canada geese in NYC Parks (Washington Sq Park has no geese, just a note).

      Of course, the USDA kills so many birds for profit across the country that in a way you cannot rule out anything – but people familiar with the situation at Washington Sq Park are sure that this was a bird netting operation undertaken by individuals who have been doing this around the city.

      I dont know anything about the sports arena shooting range so I am not sure how that fits in. I will have to look into that.

      I have written about the rounding up and killing of NYC Canada geese in the parks here at this blog over the years. The geese that are rounded up are resident, not migratory, geese, as you know; they should not be rounded up and killed to begin with but the argument IS alleged “airline safety” (which it is doing nothing to help anyway).

      Here is the piece I wrote about the killing of hundreds of Prospect Park Canada geese (with info on the *program*):


      Thanks again.


      • I have formed a group on face book called Angel Wild Birds. I am the administrator of this group and this group was made for all of the wild Geese,, Doves, Pigeons and all other wild birds that are being killed for sports, being in the way of jets, and for the cruelty of this nation.
        Everyone is welcome to visit this group I made it public. under the account odf Shirley Marie Frias Saenz
        Thank you in advance,
        Shirley m. Frias

    • Hi Khamara, Thanks for this info. I do wonder about this. As I noted in the second piece on this yesterday (and mentioned your comment), this store was implicated in 2008 as being involved. I have no idea if they have been investigated further. Thank you for commenting.


  8. I pray that the traffic cameras show something and we can catch these pos, i just soent the last two weeks catcthing over 200 white rats someone dumped at a median @ 57 and the the west side highway, we called on ever agency but no one cared, only a handful of animal lovers showed up ever evening to help. Shame on #thehumanesocietyofny, #acc,

    • Hi Carlos,

      Thanks so much for saving and helping out the white rats abandoned on the West Side Highway. Terrible that this happened & that no other agency would assist – thank YOU and others for working on this so diligently and with care and compassion.


  9. What is wrong with people, if you want to throw something up in the air and shoot it have you never heard of clay pigeon shooting. By the way it should not be called a sport, when an animal is for human pleasure like this they should at least be honest and say we love killing things and making them suffer. All hunters are low life cowards.

  10. Who would come all the way to Manhattan for pigeons when they are easy to breed?
    It is more likely that they are being served with rice or couscous to Middle Eastern immigrants — that’s traditional too.

    • Hi Al,

      I think this pigeon netting is the most likely thing as connected to the pigeon shots. It just fits all the previous criteria and the #s (so many) link in to the #s I would imagine are needed, per se, for these horrifying shoots. Of course, it could be something else – but seems unlikely. Maybe it is a combination of things.

      Pigeons need to be at least 6 or 7 weeks (I may off but at least this old) to fledge and leave the nest. The amount of money and care they would need – food and shelter – would cost more than sending some guys 2 or 3 hours down the Turnpike to abscond with these birds over a morning or afternoon. Sadly.


  11. Why wasn’t this reported to the media? There is so much publicity about the lion. One animal and here we have hundreds of birds that will be tortured and there is nothing in the newspaper? Maybe if there was, they would find this person. Is it too late to call the Times, The Daily News, Post, 1010WINS, anything?

    • I agree about getting more help from the media. I’m willing to start making calls. Cathryn, I think this should also be reported to PETA. I went on their website and it looks like they will help right away if the animal is in immediate danger – link is below. So if, as the new article states, the pigeons may be killed this weekend in PA, maybe PETA can help.


    • Hi susie and Betty —

      Susie, You are absolutely right! This post has been shared so much that you would *think* it would get to the media attention but …? I did some media outreach after you wrote (thank you!) and bringing to the attention of additional media would be great. You are so right about the lion – which we care about – but this situation affecting hundreds of birds deserves attention as well.

      Betty, I love your idea of contacting PETA and additional media. (There are animal orgs that sort of have made this their issue – Humane Society, IDA/In Defense of Animals, ones I am aware of – but each one has different strengths, I suppose.) Whatever you can do media-wise – even if you pick 5 or 10 targets – and if you can write PETA would be amazing. I know of one outlet that may cover this but don’t want to say until it is confirmed. (I can email you privately so you don’t call them.)

      Thank you both so much!


      • Hi Cathryn, yes, please, could you let me know who I shouldn’t contact. I don’t want to mess up something that may already be in place. Thanks.

        • I called PETA this morning and was transferred over to their investigation team. Couldn’t talk to a person only voicemail which they check hourly. They will call back based on the urgency of the situation. I did say it was an urgent matter. Hopefully they can help. Betty

      • Put this on Face book and make it go viral. I have the information on my group Angel Wild Birds of face book right now.
        Thank you, Shirley M. Frias

  12. Those pigeons are being sold at the auction in the meat district. A lot of people are eating pigeon aka squab so much that they can not get enough of them. Don’t know anything about pigeon shoots but they certainly are not paying 50 dollars a pigeon when you can get them at the auctions for 6-8 dollars.

    Then again the pigeons have ruined every bridge in NYC

  13. Thanks, Vito, and Lil Joey, for sharing your opinion of alternate scenarios. The timing right before this major pigeon shoot this past weekend seems suspect and the large # that were netted – however I think just figuring out who and what happened is most important right now.

    Thanks, Betty, for the Villager link. There was some other coverage which I will link to later in a separate post.

    Jasper, thanks so much for adding to the discussion and sharing your opinion. Would love to hear more about your life, honey. I believe this is an important issue for all the reasons outlined. If you don’t know, so be it.

    David, thank you for the Daily Mail link. What an image of the pigeons all dead gathered in one place – and also note the person who said : “It was just one of the most dismal things I’d ever done,” said Nassetta, who attended a single event. “I felt absolutely nothing sporting about it. It just seemed to be an obscene little adventure…”

    Thanks for your comments!


  14. Hi everyone. I’ve been working to end pigeon shoots for eight years. Been to the shoots to help document what is going on. We have a farmers market every Tuesday and stopped there today. They have small animal auction. Today when I stopped they had over 200 pigeons. Would say half were feral and others domestic. From being at shoots know they use both. Have even seen Homers which are not legal to shoot. Believe this is the place where many of the birds are being sold. Will be stopping in every Tuesday. If anyone gets a license plate of a pigeon netter please email it to me so I can check for it there. Know from the past we had known pigeon netters from NY there. My email address is drfinpa@dejazzd.com. Bill has come out in Harrisburg to end these shoots. Nineteen Senators have signed on to sponsor. Thanks to some very dedicated people we will never stop until these shoots are illegal.
    Deb Fitzkee

  15. Hi Deb, Thanks so much for this information. They keep the pigeons at the farmers market? What is an animal auction? Thanks for your bravery and working on this and sharing this information.



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