Fly By Night: Don’t Miss This Free Pigeon Whisperer Event!

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Despite recent evidence to the contrary, we don’t typically cover the pigeon beat. However, arts nonprofit Creative Time, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and artist Duke Riley have partnered to present somewhat of a pigeon symphony in May, and we think it shouldn’t be missed. It’s free, and happening on multiple dates through early June, but you have to register for tickets in advance and they’re going fast! Read on to get the full scoop!


photo: Creative Time

Only In New York
Entitled “Fly By Night”, Riley’s project is the type of thing  that can pretty much only happen in New York, as it involves thousands of pigeons living in a converted ship docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, benefactors like Creative Time and the Yard, and a Brooklyn artist who also happens to have special bond with New York City’s unofficial avian mascot. (Riley rescued a pigeon as a child, and when he let it go it came back, resulting in a lifelong bond with the birds. As an adult, he lived and worked in a pigeon coop  for five years, and in 2013, trained homing pigeons to smuggle cigars from Havana to Key West as part of the piece Trading With the Enemy.)

What Will Happen
It sounds sort of hard to believe, but at dusk on Friday to Sunday through early June, Riley will blow a whistle, at which point thousands of pigeons will emerge from their ship home at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The birds will be wearing small legs bands, similar to the ones historically used to enable pigeons to carry messages. (Yes: it may take a bit to get the kids to believe people actually communicated via hard copy and birds.) However, instead of carrying messages, the bands will be outfitted with tiny LED lights, and the birds will swoop and fly together, creating a twinkling piece of public art that of course will be different every evening.


photo: Creative Time

What’s It All About? 
“Fly By Night” plays homage to pigeon-keeping both here and further afield, as well as to the pursuit throughout history. (Apparently, the birds have been domesticated for thousands of years, used for companionship, sports and service.) New York, of course, has long been home to communities of pigeon keepers, known as “fanciers”, with rooftop pigeon lofts found throughout the five boroughs, the numbers of which are sadly waning.

(Concerned about the pigeons’ welfare? Don’t worry: so is Riley, and the team of people hired to look after the birds, which includes an avian veterinarian, and specially-trained handlers on site before, during and after the performance. At the conclusion of the piece, Riley will adopt many of the birds as pets; others will find homes with other fanciers schooled in the ways of pigeon-keeping. You can read more about the kinds of birds involved in the piece, how they’re cared for and more, here.)

Riley hopes “Fly By Night” will help the uninitiated feel some of the joy the birds bring their keepers. “The first time I flew birds, I looked up and forgot the rest of the world’s noise. Pigeon keeping is like a religion, and those who enter into this relationship find more peace in their birds than anything else. My hope is for the audience to look up at these beautiful creatures and experience that same rapture, a freedom like no other.”

Will It? Well, you won’t know unless you’re there. Reserve your spots now!

Duke Riley’s “Fly By Night”
Fri.-Sun. evenings, dusk,  May 7- June 12
Tickets: Free, advance registration required
Brooklyn Navy Yard

Are you going to “Fly By Night”? Tell us in the comments below!

—Mimi O’Connor