On most days, over on the western edge of Washington Square Park, you'll find Paul, a man with a few dozen pigeons and a storied past. He's known by most as simply The Birdman, a name which he does not mind, and his pigeon post is an unusual sight, even for NYC. Last week we took some time to get to know Paul and his friends, who frequently come to hang out with him, feed the animals, and see the simple and special connection he has with one of the city's most ubiquitous birds.
Paul recalled the circumstances that led him to his pigeon post: "I lost my job, I lost everything in January or February in the cold. And nobody's here and the only person that came next to me are the pigeons. And then they made me happy and I decided to just be with them because they don't bother me. And I have to deal with landlords throwing me out, taking me to court..." This was nine years ago, and Paul has been sitting with the same flock since. "I knew their mothers and fathers," he tells us.
Paul and his friends have named most of the birds, and we were lucky enough to personally meet and hold Dotty, Cinnamon, and the flock's ladies man, Choco. "You get to know their markings and personalities if you hang out with them long enough," Paul told us. And like any proud parent, Paul broke out photos of the flock and his pals over the years. He tells us he worries about the flock's safety at times, having recently lost a bird to one of the hawks that nest high above the park in the Bobst Library at NYU. The dogs are also a constant threat.
But what troubles Paul most is that pigeons have a bad rep—that they're said to be diseased or dirty or "rats with wings"—and he likes that the positive relationship with his birds can change that perception. As his friend and NYU student Elka Holmes exclaimed, "Boy, they really rely on you, they're going nuts for you!"
Previously in Winged Animal Week: we talked to City Birder Rob Jett about urban birdwatching, visited Brooklyn's backyard chicken coops, scratched our heads over the "Petal Storm," aww'd over some newly hatched Black Necked Swans, shared 24 magnificent photos of NYC peacocks, told you where to get the best chicken wings, and learned how the Port Authority keeps geese away from JFK airport.