Volume 77, Number 3 - January 2 - 8, 2008
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Anna Millholland, left, and Jackie Mock, co-founders of the Greenwich Village Pigeon Club, at a Nov. 30 City Hall protest against Councilmember Simcha Felder’s pigeon population control bill.

Village pigeon club is more than a flight of fancy

By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke 

The Greenwich Village Pigeon Club use lighters printed with their logo as their business card because “lighters change hands more than anything else.”

Although the club brought the lighters to a City Hall rally in November against legislation proposed by Brooklyn Councilmember Simcha Felder that is aimed at curtailing the pigeon population, they were not as popular as the T-shirts that read “I ♥ NY” followed by a red pigeon symbol.

“It wasn’t really a lighter crowd at City Hall,” said Jackie Mock, 21, a founding member of the group.

The New York Times reported that Felder’s spokesperson bought a T-shirt.

“Actually, he bought two,” said Mock. 

Mock, a painting student at Parsons, started the club a year and a half ago as way to create a sense of community that she felt was lacking in the Village. 

“It seemed like there were mostly really small groups that were difficult to join — or really large ones,” said Mock. 

She chose the pigeon because, she said, it is “a symbol of the underappreciated.” The aim of the group is to celebrate life and people, said Mock, noting she saw the pigeon as an emblem of the city. 

“We get pigeonholed as an animal-rights group,” said Mock. “I mean, we are for animal rights, but that is not what we are primarily.”

The group has about 40 members and is a combination of artists and bird lovers. Many members are from out of state, and they range in age and interests.

Nineteen dollars buys a lifetime membership, a T-shirt and a quarterly newsletter that contains information on pigeons, as well as more offbeat pieces. For example, the newsletters feature a roundup of bands whose titles bear some relation to pigeons. So far, they have written about Counting Crows, Flock of Seagulls, The Byrds and Sheryl Crow. They also host podcasts on their Web site.

The Pigeon Club’s bicycle, which was used by Mock and her friends, was recently stolen from outside of the club’s Bleecker St. headquarters, which is also the apartment that Mock shares with Anna Millholland, a club co-founder who studies fashion design at Parsons.

“It was just a stolen-bike thing,” said Millholland. “I really don’t think it has anything to do with any bad feelings about our stance on the pigeon ban or anything.”

“This club started as a fun experiment, but it turned into something a lot bigger,” said Mock. “The pigeon ban really brought us out into the open. In a way it is the first really serious thing we have done.” 

Felder’s proposed legislation recommends creating a “pigeon czar” to oversee the pigeon population, fining people for feeding pigeons, feeding the pigeons birth control, “dovecotting” — or replacing pigeon eggs with fakes — and reintroducing hawks and falcons into the urban habitat, as well as experimenting with the use of robotic hawks.

“There is a real sci-fi twinge to the methods proposed,” said Millholland. “Releasing hawks to kill the pigeons seems a lot worse than just having pigeons. And replacing the eggs with fake eggs is just mean.”

The proposed legislation lists several diseases that are found in pigeon droppings. However, the bill also notes that these diseases are rare, and that contracting them requires a significant amount of contact with the droppings.

“Conditions would have to be extremely unsanitary” for humans to acquire serious diseases from pigeon droppings, noted Mock.

Felder’s bill also lists damage to infrastructure as another possible danger, because excessive amounts of bird droppings can slowly corrode steel and could have potentially contributed to the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis in August 2007.

“There haven’t been enough studies and the language is very speculative,” said Millholland of the pigeon proposal.

Indeed, the legislation itself says that the possibility that bird droppings played a part in the Minnesota bridge collapse has been “widely exaggerated.”

Millholland said that, in her view, the pigeon ban does seem like a “publicity thing” for Felder. Felder did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Similar attempts at pigeon population control have been enacted in London, Basel, Switzerland and Los Angeles. 

“We got an e-mail from someone in Germany who said that he liked coming to New York because, unlike where he lived, there are no laws against feeding pigeons here,” said Mock. 

“Most people seem pretty indifferent to pigeons and see them as a small inconvenience of living in a city,” added Millholland.

Still, the two have been called upon to defend their bird-based group against people who label pigeons “rats with wings” — or, as Council Speaker Christine Quinn put it not long ago, “flying rats.”

“It was really awkward during a recent drawing class,” said Millholland. “I was posing while the model was taking a break and I happened to have been wearing my pigeon club shirt. My teacher started asking about it and calling them ‘rats with wings.’ It was really hard to defend pigeons while posing in front of the class.”

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