In New York, Pigeon Keepers Flock Together
SCOTT SIMON, host:
For generations, domesticated pigeons have been nesting on urban rooftops, where their keepers train them for sport. New York City is one of the bastions of the hobby. And in Brooklyn reporter Sandy Gordon stumbled upon one of the region's few remaining pigeon supply stores, a place where enthusiasts can swap stories as well as birds.
SANDY GORDON: The pigeon keepers of New York spend a lot of time in that solitary space above the city, where flocks of brown and gray feathers fan across the sky.
But on Sunday mornings they gather on the ground at Broadway Pigeon and Pet Supplies in the Bushwick neighborhood. The regulars drink coffee in a row of chairs in front of a wall stacked with bags of bird feed. Everyone here has a story of how they lost their birds.
Mr. JOEY SCOTT (Co-owner, Broadway Pigeon and Pet Supplies): The birds go up. They get lost. Some birds don't have the instinct to come back, you know?
GORDON: That's Joey Scott. He keeps about 300 birds on his roof in coops he inherited from his grandfather in 1971. Three decades later, he and his brother opened Broadway Pigeon and Pet Supplies. The back room is lined with cages and coops. The pigeons flap their wings and stir up a musty dust of feathers and seed. Their coos are a gentler echo of the trains that rumble overhead.
As some birds settle, others stir from their perch, like the flock is one body in constant motion. Again, Joey Scott.
Mr. SCOTT: These are called Polish highflyers. They got those soft legs, like socks almost.
GORDON: Most of the pigeons here are strays - birds that get separated from their flock and join another.
Mr. SCOTT: Bald-head(ph) caps(ph). When I say bald-head(ph) I mean they're white headed, their bodies are colored and their tails and wings are all white.
GORDON: When keepers bring their birds down from the sky, they tally them up. If they find any drifters, they might bring them to Scott, who buys the stranglers for two bucks each and sells them for whatever he can get.
But while there's action in the air, the Scott brothers' store is neutral turf. The regulars joke and welcome newcomers like Les Francis(ph), a clothing designer who became fascinated with pigeons as a boy in Trinidad.
Mr. LES FRANCIS (Clothing Designer): I used to just come sometimes and buy a couple birds and buy some feed.
GORDON: Now he comes for the conversation.
Mr. FRANCIS: You meet some great guys that come down here. There's some friendships that we're developing also.
GORDON: The men find companionship with the animals too.
Mr. FRANCIS: But the prettiest thing to me is when you see (unintelligible) pigeons flying high like on a day like today - blue skies. It's so pretty up high. You know what I mean?
GORDON: After work, Joey Scott unwinds with his own birds.
Mr. SCOTT: Go on my roof. There's no cars, no people walking around. You know, I'm on the roof with the birds and that's it. (Unintelligible) you know, everything's good.
GORDON: Down the block you can see the edges of rooftop coops peeking above the buildings. On the corner of Elder and Wilson, a keeper tends to his birds. When he lets them fly, they soar and swoop in circles, their shadows flickering on brick walls and spangling the concrete.
For NPR News, I'm Sandy Gordon.
SIMON: This is NPR News.