Monday, July 16, 2007

The Mystery of the Disappearing Pigeons

Via Readerville I became aware of this New Yorker article


Last month, the National Audubon Society issued a paper documenting a decline in the populations of many common American birds, including bobwhites, whip-poor-wills, grackles, and grosbeaks. The study did not list the feral domestic pigeon as a species under siege, but apparently it is—at least, in certain local precincts. In Greenwich Village, residents are reporting a Columba livia domestica crime wave. Like the Upper East Side flock-nappings of a few years back, this recent spate of abductions has become a heated mystery, giving rise to the feeling, among residents, of having stepped into an episode of “Law & Order: Avian Victims Unit.”

Judith Monaco Callet was walking her neighbor’s dog one afternoon in April when she saw a man in an S.U.V. with tinted windows park on the west side of LaGuardia, near Bleecker. The man—Callet thinks he was Caucasian, and wearing a cap—got out of the S.U.V., crossed the street, and threw a big pile of birdseed onto the pavement. “Out of the corner of my eye,” Callet said the other day, “I saw a big black net, like a butterfly or fishing net. So I see it moving, and I’m thinking somebody’s lost a cat. The guy swooped the net up, closed it off, and there he went.” He made off with about fifteen pigeons.

A few feet away, in LaGuardia Corner Gardens, was Wilhelmine Hellmann, a retired electron microscopist, tending to her peach tree. “Wilhelmine shouted, ‘Get the license plate!’ ” Callet recalled. Callet managed to jot down the number before the S.U.V. sped away. She called the police and, later, the Villager, which noted the incident. “Someone is scooping up Village pigeons and no one knows why,” the paper warned.

Quite a strange story (if true), and it sounds like it is quite a puzzle. Nobody can figure out why anyone wants to catch these pigeons, though people have their pet theories, often based upon stereotypes

A few plots over from Hellmann, a gardener who gave his name as Jack was pruning his daylilies. A couple of years ago, he said, he’d seen something similar happen early on a Sunday morning. He put forth two explanations: either the pigeons were being eaten, perhaps in Chinatown, or they were being taken to shooting ranges in Pennsylvania. “You know something—just hit me right now?” he asked, his tone turning ominous. He looked across LaGuardia to the umbrellas of Señor Swanky’s. “Rich folk don’t like pigeons.” Jack pointed out a set of spiky metal apparatuses that, along with a parliament’s worth of owl decoys, had been installed on the window ledges of a nearby building. “It’s, like, follow the money.” Another gardener whispered, “Maybe it’s N.Y.U.!”

A racist and a conspiracy theorist. Nice, isn't it?

I wonder if we are going to ever hear what happens to those pigeons - somehow I don't think this case has the highest priority at the NYPD.

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