Up on Victor’s Roof
I met Victor a few weeks ago at a community fair on Amsterdam Avenue. He was holding court at a folding table on the street, a hand-raised baby bird named Sunday on his shoulder, and a cage full of handsome rooftop pigeons. I hung around, watching Victor handle the birds and peppering him with questions. I said I’d like to see the pigeon coop one of these days.
“Come on up,” he said.
“But the dog –” I said.
“Bring him up.”
So Esau and I followed Victor into a building and up the narrow stairs to the roof.
It’s hard to explain the magic of a NYC roof. On the roof, you are in two worlds at once. You’re in the city, and also, magically, outside it.
Victor no longer lives in the building where his pigeons live. He visits them every other day to give them fresh food and water, and to watch them fly. They live in a coop he fashioned out of an existing structure on the roof.
Victor removed the screens that partially blocked off the door and window, called to the birds and scattered seed on the roof.
We were joined by a young pigeon-loving neighbor and his mother.
A few pigeons were reluctant to leave.
But most came out to eat, to hang out on the roof of the coop,
and to fly
Victor’s birds are called flights, and they fly together in great circles over the rooftop. Victor says they never land in the street, only on rooftops, preferably their own rooftop. He calls street birds “clinkers,” and tells me you can easily see the difference between a street bird and birds like his. Street birds have red eyes and black claws, while most of his birds have clear eyes and clear claws.
And, damn, if it isn’t true.
While the birds circled above, Victor regaled me with facts about pigeons and stories of the glory days of pigeon-flying in Morningside Heights, when every rooftop had its coop. Each owner banded his birds with ankle rings in different colors, so everyone knew which birds belonged to which coop. Victor told me of losing birds to red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons and tough fellow pigeon fliers, who practiced “Catch and kill,” where they kill any stray bird that ends up in their flock.
“Why, Victor?” I asked. “Why would they do that?”
“Just to be mean,” he said. “And a lot of guys don’t want a bird that won’t come back to its own roof. If you told them you had one of their birds, they’d say, “Kill it.'”
After a while, Victor scattered more seed and called the birds in.
They ate and hung out.
Then Victor closed them back into their coop and swept up the leftover seed.
Time to descend the stairs and re-enter the world of the street. Which has its own magic.2010, Birds, In the City, June, strange encounters, Wildlife/Natural History comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.