Pigeon Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This plaza is named for one of New York’s most enduring creatures, the pigeon. Of the numerous animal inhabitants of New York City, the most widely recognized group may very well be the pigeon (Columba spp.).

Although most New Yorkers refer to these ground feeding birds generically as pigeons, the pigeon family actually comprises 289 species of birds throughout the world. The most common American pigeon, the mourning dove (Zenaidura carolinensis) is aptly named for its melancholy call. The rock dove, a stout bird with a small head, short neck, and thick gray and white plumage, (Columba livia) is almost exclusively the species of pigeon seen in New York City.

Pigeons arrived in America in the 1600s from Europe. Originally raised as a barnyard animal used for their meat, many pigeons escaped and began to thrive in the wild, their populations growing and adapting to city life. Pigeons nest in any nook they can find, including building ledges and the girders of bridges. Their rarely seen young reach adult size after little more than one week of suckling on “pigeon milk”, a thick substance produced in the crop of both of the young’s monogamous parents.

In the 1930s through the 1950s, pigeons were commonly kept as pets in coops on the roofs of houses. Common pigeons could fly at speeds in excess of 45 miles per hour, but carefully bred pigeons that could obtain speeds of up to 75 miles per hour were used for communication purposes. During World War II (1939-1945), five pairs of pigeons from each coop in the country (many from in New York City) received draft notices and were used to breed the Army’s extensive force of homing pigeons used in combat. Today as few as 50 pigeon coops remain in the City.

Although pigeons have a storied past and many admirers, some call pigeons “flying rats” for their often dirty appearance and diseases acquired by living on the city streets. The acidic droppings of pigeons can eat through limestone and stain brass thus damaging architecture and statues around the city.

Pigeon Plaza, a Greenstreets site at the intersection of New Utrecht Avenue, 45th Street, and Fort Hamilton Parkway, encompasses a planted triangle with a variety of shrubs. The outer area is paved with cement and surrounded by both London planetrees (Platanus x acerifolia) and American lindens (Tilia americana), adding greenery to the intersection. Greenstreets is a collaboration between Parks and the Department of Transportation, which aims to convert paved street properties into green spaces.

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