Posted tagged ‘Morningside Heights’

Up on Victor’s Roof

June 9, 2010

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.

Faces of Morningside Heights

May 26, 2010

Jumping beans

Beautiful kids.

Sweet face

Baby tiger and her big sister

Pigeon release

Serious bigs…

Learn to Play Dominoes

Cut-throat dominoes

The Taino live!!

Victor Casiano’s Rooftop Pigeons

May 20, 2010

Victor Casiano is the last survivor of a once-mighty tribe: the rooftop pigeon fliers of Morningside Heights. According to Victor, pigeon coops used to grace virtually every rooftop.

Now there’s only Victor and his beloved flock of flights and tumblers, magpies and fantails.

I met Victor last weekeend during Manhattan Valley Family Days, a community event that was part of the NYC Department of Transportation Weekend Walks Program.

He sat at a table with a cage full of birds, a small selection of his rooftop flock.

An effective ambassador to a passing world, Victor proudly showed off his birds, all the while chatting with friends and neighbors.

He explained the differences between his birds, easily flipping open wings to display the markings.

Gorgeous red and white markings

He taught children how to hold and release the birds

and placed a hand-raised baby pigeon on their shoulders

He patiently answered endless questions from this writer

and promised to take me up to his rooftop coop on Amsterdam Avenue.

For more on Victor and his birds, see “Up on Victor’s Roof,” and visit my monthly column in the Westside Independent to read about my first visit to Victor’s rooftop coop.

Oh, how I love New York.

Update: I just ran into Victor on the street and he told me Family Days is running for two Sundays. Come by Amsterdam Avenue between 106th and 110th on Sunday May 23rd from 11 AM until 5 PM. Victor and his birds will be doing demonstrations as will Hiraldo’s Karate School, El Taller Latino, Mugi Pottery, and many others. Victor will be set up between 108th and 109th.


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