One thing I love about living in Greenpoint is that people here care. There are many different things we care about – the Polish businesses, the Asian elderly, personal fashion, politics, community library, bike lanes – the list feels endless. Of course, it really caught our attention when we found out that a special individual is caring for the birds at McGolrick Park. She is otherwise known as the Bird Lady of Greenpoint.
So one fine Saturday morning, I brought with me a 10 pound bag of bird feed as an offering, and sat down with the Bird Lady herself. I was intrigued by her compassion, how knowledgeable she is about these fowls, and I even got up close and personal with some of her bird friends.
When did this affinity for birds start?
In 2018, I found a pair of mourning doves nesting on my fire escape. That was when I started noticing birds and appreciating them.
However, feeding the pigeons at the park didn’t become a daily thing until a year ago. We were deep in pandemic times. In order to maintain my sanity, I had to force myself to go outside. Somehow, I’d always end up at the same bench, sitting there, sipping coffee and reading something on my phone.
Soon it became a daily affair, when I got my coffee, I would conveniently pick up a bag of peanuts for the squirrels and birds. I remember being really down one day, sitting on the bench, being around the squirrels and pigeons really lifted my spirits. It quickly became the highlight of my days.
The first pigeon that really stood out to me is one I name Ludo. She landed on me, and we locked eyes for a good while. I didn’t see her as just a pigeon, at that moment I could tell she was thinking, processing – she was intelligent and moved with intent.
It was really special to have a tame moment with a wild animal, to look into their eyes and know you’re perceiving each other. After that incident, my interest snowballed.
Now I spend hours with them daily, and I have come to know the individual personalities of most of the flock and squirrels. There’s an obvious level of communication amongst the animals at the park, a community of creatures right under our noses, that we quickly dismiss as pests.
It’s a secret world, worth paying attention to. I’ve learned so much from my time spent at the park.
Is it presumptuous to assume pigeons are your favorite fowls?
I try not to pick favorites. I think all birds are great, have interesting behaviors and fascinating looks.
The cool thing about city pigeons is that they’re descendants of domesticated pigeons. They stay in urban areas to be close to humans. They’re no different from stray cats and dogs. Pigeons actually want to befriend humans. I love spending time with them because they allow it, and I think maybe they even like me, too.
What do you usually feed the pigeons at McGolrick Park with and are they all paid out of your own pocket?
When I can I buy large bags of bird seed. Some days, I also go to the grocery store and customise a quick mix.
Pigeons mostly eat grains and seeds which are, fortunately, inexpensive. I would get a bag of dried peas, barley, buckwheat – at about $1.20 each. I split that mix over 2-3 days. Sometimes, I add in unsalted peanuts and sunflower seeds. I make it a point to check that what I give them is pigeon-safe, not salted, and not harmful in moderation.
How have the public reacted to you?
I’ve had some bad reactions, but lately some positive ones.
Some people really hate pigeons with a passion. So much that they will cuss at those who feed them. People have laughed at me, made fun of me to their friends while walking by, taken photos/videos without my consent.
It was really starting to get to me, so I tried to block it out. Starting an Instagram page (@mcgolrick.flock) was my way of getting ahead of any bad interactions. It was a platform that I could explain and defend myself, instead of being judged on sight.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve toughened up, but people react nicer now. Folks usually just ask how I got the pigeons to like me. They express that it’s cool I get to spend time with them intimately. Honestly, I don’t think what I’m doing is weird. It’s New York City, we all know someone who’s a friend to the pigeons.
Are you at all worried about diseases?
Not at all! Animals in poor health tend to look sickly, so if I notice a bird or squirrel acting differently, I’d practice caution. The most common diseases pigeons carry are only transmittable to other birds and animals. It’s rare that humans get sick through interactions with them. The most common way people get exposed is from inhaling dried bird feces.
When you linger on sidewalks with awnings above, and those awnings are filled with pigeon nests, that poses more of a threat than touching a wild pigeon, especially on a windy day.
One of the best things about knowing a specific flock is getting to monitor their health. They trust me enough that I can easily remove strings from their feet. When they land on me, I can tell a few are underweight. When they feel soft and look vibrant, those are signs that they’re generally doing well.
Pigeons live in the environment we create. If we see pigeons looking dull and dirty, that’s more of a reflection of us than the pigeons.
What are you hoping to achieve through your Instagram account @mcgolrick.flock?
I never thought about it since I initially started the account not expecting much traction. Instead of talking my friends’ ears off, I figured Instagram would be a good alternative outlet. I enjoy sharing the joy of pigeons and rambling freely, with whoever wants to hear about it. The account has turned into such a wholesome way of finding community.
I’d say half of my followers are pigeon lovers, who share advice and helpful information. The other half are Greenpointers who seem genuinely interested in what I’m doing.
I like to think that I’m introducing my (bird) friends to the world. It is my hope that one day someone will walk through McGolrick Park and recognize a pigeon from my page. Perhaps my posts will encourage people to give a little more thought the next time they pass by city wildlife.
If you have any other thoughts to share, do feel free to DM me. I’ll try my best to weave it in.
Any final words for Greenpointers who want to do something for the flock?
There are a few spots in the park where people regularly dump bread. The birds have learned to gather there. I’ve even seen donuts and cakes discarded at those locations. Birds and squirrels will eat any discarded food. But they’re not meant to have sugar or bread. Those foods may fill their bellies, but have no nutritional value. In the long run, it causes them health problems.
Additionally, the discarded food attracts rats and mice. Since the food stays on the ground for a while, mold and bacteria grow on them. This in turn, potentially, harms all the park critters.
The park has a really bad litter problem going on as of late. I dread Monday mornings because I know the park will be filled with pizza boxes, wine bottles and other trash. I wish that people would bring their own trash bags if they’re having a large gathering at the park. My hope is that everyone would do their part to maintain our lovely park.
*Bird Lady of Greenpoint wishes to remain anonymous and we absolutely respect that. All content posted have been approved by her.*