Rivera confident anti-birdnapping bill will fly

Paul, the “Pigeon Man,” in Washington Square, feeding birdseed to some of his friends fortunate to have evaded birdnappers’ net after an incident in 2015. Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | Pigeon thieves known for netting birds in New York City could face jail time under new legislation floated by City Councilmember Carlina Rivera.

For several years, animal-rights advocates have lamented an apparent scheme to snatch hundreds of wild birds, often illegally, and later shoot them for sport in Pennsylvania, where such events are legal.

Rivera’s new bill would explicitly prohibit capturing all wild birds, not just pigeons, “with the intent to take the bird by shooting or to use it for any unlawful purpose.”

The penalty for capturing wild birds would be a misdemeanor, with fines up to $1,000 or jail time of up to one year.

“I think that regardless of whether or not you like pigeons, it’s illegal and dangerous to remove them from New York City streets and parks, and we need to punish the people that are committing this illegal behavior as a serious crime,” said Rivera.

The New York City Bar Association wrote to the Pennsylvania state Legislature in support of a law to ban pigeon shooting back in 2010, but the Keystone State has yet to ban the events. More recently, in 2015, an apparent 300-pigeon heist in Washington Square Park occurred according to advocates. Though later police said only some 100 pigeons were missing. Some arrests have been made in the past for birdnapping in other instances under a different law.

A faded memorial left to the lost pigeons in Washington Square Park after a mass bird-napping back in 2015. Photo by Tequila Minsky

The councilmember — who represents the East Village, part of the Lower East Side and Kips Bay — plans to introduce the bill in the City Council on Wed., Oct. 31.

“This would be a big step in our city to stop this and protect our wildlife,” said Joyce Friedman, of Voters for Animals Rights, an animal-rights organization fighting for legislation to protect animals, who assisted Rivera with drafting the bill. “We feel that this is important, so that it would protect hundreds of birds. It’s not only the fact that they’re netted, but it’s very violent,” she said.

Friedman, a longtime vocal advocate for animal rights, said when wild birds — often pigeons — are netted, their legs and wings are broken. Then, she explained, they are kept in small boxes without food and water, becoming disoriented and weak. When released for shooting contests, they are shot and left to starve with gunshot wounds, according to Friedman.

“It’s inhumane from beginning to end,” she said.

Currently, the law prohibits capturing pigeons without a permit. The state Department of Environmental Conservation issues permits to capture pigeons for curbing nuisance or if they are destroying property.

Larry, Washington Square’s other “Pigeon Man,” with three of his favorite members of the park’s flock. Photo by Lincoln Anderson

Voters for Animal Rights says the current laws are hardly a deterrent.

“It’s sort of just doing the cost of business for them,” said Allie Feldman Taylor, founder and president of the VFAR.

After working with her predecessor former Councilmember Rosie Mendez to pass a law to ban wild animals in entertainment, Rivera is confident that other councilmembers will support her legislation, as well.

“I know that people have a lot of different opinions about pigeons,” Rivera said, “but at the end of the day, they’re core to the character of New York.”

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