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.

A few days later, as I was on my way to Morningside Park to check on the goslings, I ran into Victor, carrying a bag of birdseed.

But the dog

“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's pigeons on top of their coop

The coop has a door and a window for the birds to fly in and out of.  Or just stand in.

Victor removed the screens that partially blocked off the door and window, called to the birds and scattered seed on the roof.

Victor feeds the birds.

We were joined by a young pigeon-loving neighbor and his mother.

Who's in there?

A few pigeons were reluctant to leave.

What's going on out there?

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.

Look deeply into my eyes like glass.

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.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2010, Birds, In the City, June, strange encounters, Wildlife/Natural History

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12 Comments on “Up on Victor’s Roof”

  1. paola Says:

    Esau is so cute!
    romantic pictures!
    I didn’n know there was differece among street and roof pigeons! interesting!
    love your blog and to read these histories!!

  2. […] Out walking the dog tracking nature in the city & other NYC odysseys « Up on Victor’s Roof […]

  3. pat hoey Says:

    Wonderful visit to Victor–and the photos get better and better. For many years I lived on a high floor facing south on Houston Street and Little Italy.
    One of the joys of gazing at the view late in the day was the sight of the homing pigeons flying in a great circle over the tenement rooftops before
    coming to rest for the night. One of the sorrows was watching and waiting in vain for their appearance one week, having to accept that the last of the last flocks had gone.
    But a pleasure to know the boids are still ‘homing in’ uptown.

    • Thank you – what a lovely image of the birds. Too bad they are no longer flying over Little Italy – there must once have been scores of coops. I’ve heard from another reader that there remains an active coop in the East Village, and I know they exist in Harlem, both east and west.

    • Robert Asa Kato Says:

      Hey my name is Robert also knowed as Kati from the les Ian so blessed to hear this story about victors roof top piegons as a young boy back I n the 80s I had about 300 to 400 pigeons on a building on Henry St in the les witch we had for many years and I had a blast flying them and letting them roll out in the skies and also seeing old timers like uncle that had a coop on Bowery St and red the bum that flew his birds right there across from the manhatan briggh that was the good old days when you would see all the roofs with pigeons now you may have a hand ful apose to so many that were out there want to thank victor for continuing have the pigeons and keeping this sport alive.

      • Thank you so much for your comment, Robert. You bring back a mostly lost world with your descriptions. I have not seen Victor around the neighborhood recently. When I do, I’ll be sure to tell him about your post.

  4. Joy K. Says:

    Love the description of the differences between street birds and roof birds.

  5. Charlotte Says:

    great narrative of old ny and Victor holding onto old ny, and you holding onto both worlds. love this post!

  6. amarilla Says:

    Beautiful photos, so grainy and pigeony.

  7. mthew Says:

    “But the dog.” Esau wants to fly, I’m betting.

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