BY TEQUILA MINSKY | Last Friday, Paul the Pigeon Man was stoic. Larry the Birdman was bereft. They missed seeing their friends in Washington Square Park.
If it seems there are a lot less pigeons in Washington Square Park, it’s because there are.
Earlier last week, on Tuesday afternoon, birdnappers were reportedly out in force on the park’s far west side. In an orchestrated maneuver taking just minutes, the peaceful pigeons were lured to a spot near the Washington Place park entrance, where they were captured by net — they netted three batches — and then whisked away in a van.
Larry the Birdman was near the fountain and missed the abduction of possibly more than 200 birds.
“It happened so fast,” he said. “It was a silver-colored van.”
One member of the cadre who hang out on the park’s western side near the Holley monument said, “We know these birds and some of us have relationships with individual birds.”
Doris Diether is among the F.O.B. (Friends of the Birds). She said the pigeon she calls Opal likes her and comes to her as she walks assisted by a walker. Diether said, thankfully, “her bird” is still in the park.
“But they got two of William’s birds,” she said, explaining that William cares for pigeons that are injured.
Articles about birdnapping have been appearing for years in local newspapers, including The Villager. Seven years ago, the New York Post wrote about “pigeon netting,” the black-market act of snatching pigeons off the streets and selling them for $5 and $10 each, mostly to legal, out-of-state (frequently Pennsylvania) pigeon shoots.
It was believed that the purloined Washington Square pigeons were destined for a similar fate. Diether said word was that the van had New Jersey license plates.
Saturday afternoon at the Holley bust, a memorial service was held for the avian abductees organized by Tina Trachtenberg, an artist and animal advocate. She creates the felt pigeons at Washington Square.
Days later, flowers marked the memorial site and a weathered sign read: “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.”
By Tuesday, flowers and sign were gone.
Joyce Friedman, the New York City coordinator at The Humane Society of the United States, read on social media about the memorial and came to the park to learn more.
“I reported it to the N.Y.P.D. Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad,” she said. “We can’t give out any more detailed information, because now it’s an ongoing investigation.”
She reiterated that the investigating officers take it seriously, also mentioning that the same sort of birdnappings took place a couple months ago on the Upper West Side and are also under investigation.
For four days, Tuesday through Friday, security at the Parks Department office at Washington Square Park, the bicycle police on patrol and police in a van watching on Sunday morning were totally unaware of the birdnapping. As of this Tuesday, not all the local patrolling police or Parks employees were aware of the nefarious netting.
However, on Tuesday, in response to The Villager’s request for information about the incident, Parks spokesperson Crystal Howard warned the pigeon pluckers to beware.
“Don’t steal our animals!” she said. “Pigeons are core to the character of New York City, and it is illegal and dangerous to remove animals from New York City parks.”
Friedman also emphasized that birdnapping is illegal.
“If you see someone doing it, take a picture of the license plate,” she said. “Then call 911. If you become aware afterward, report it by calling 311.”
Early Sunday evening, Haley, a friend of Larry, swung by the park to see if he was all right.
Larry now sits on his usual bench, but no longer bedecked with birds, keeping a vigilant eye on the park’s Washington Place entrance to see if there are any more lurking vans.
“There are surveillance cameras,” he said, hoping they would have caught useful information to bust the birdnappers.