Stories

The pigeons are getting braver


The pigeon is the quintessential city bird. The presence of the “Rat of the sky” on our sidewalks is so common that people consider the bird a nuisance, if they notice them at all. But on a handful of rooftops in Brooklyn, in a small hidden world, pigeons are way more than that. Here it is about passion, hobby, a source of competition and even in some case close to a religion.
They call themselves “fliers” and own flocks of hundreds of birds that they keep in coops on rooftops. They work every day to feed them, clean the lofts, medicate the birds and most importantly, exercise and fly them.


The pigeons are getting braver is a photo-essay realized between January and May 2019. I went to meet and photograph 10 of these fliers in their secret havens above the streets to understand their story, their hobby and their relation to the birds.


Pigeon breeding first became popular in New York in the mid-1950s, imported to Brooklyn and the Bronx by working class Italian and Irish immigrants. But the last two decades saw a newer cohort of fliers emerge, young Hispanic and Afro-Americans who picked up the hobby from the older white men when they moved into the neighborhood as kids. Collectively, through their involvement in rooftop pigeon flying, this new generation built a thriving subculture with its own set of pleasures, rules and rewards.


Today only a few remain. Joey Scott, part owner of Broadway Pigeons and Pet Supplies — a gathering point for the remaining pigeon enthusiasts in Bushwick — estimates that more than half the pigeon lofts have disappeared in the last ten years. He blames gentrification. Many fliers can’t afford to maintain a coop anymore and are being pushed out by a new demographic that has no interest in the hobby.


The project is an elegiac testimony of this now dying subculture, exploring the relationship between the fliers and their birds. Between secret haven and competition, spirituality and obsession, escape from reality and rooftop alienation.