Night flight: Pigeons as art

August 19, 2016

Pigeonsalthough domesticated for thousands of yearsare often considered a big-city nuisance. ("Rats with wings," anyone?) But by combining nature and technology, one artist sees them as far more.

These birds of a feather flocked together to collaborate with artist Duke Riley, the public arts organization Creative Time and the Brooklyn Navy Yard to create a series of breathtaking performances marrying nature with technology called Fly By Night.

Pigeons were outfitted with innovative leg bands (historically used to carry messages) that were updated to contain tiny, remote-controlled LED lights. The flock was released each weekend May 7 through June 19 at dusk to illuminate the sky as the sun set over Manhattan.

According to Creative Time, the Brooklyn Navy Yard-which was once home to the country's largest naval fleet of pigeon carriers-was "the ideal setting for the exhibit that paid tribute to the beautiful, diverse and fascinating histories of pigeon flying and New York City."

Pigeons, which have been domesticated for service and companionship for thousands of years, are a particular passion for artist Duke Riley. Many of the birds used in the exhibit came from his personal flock. During the creation of the Fly By Night project, Riley and Creative Time retained Alexandra Wilson, DVM, of the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine in New York City. Dr. Wilson has established expertise in the medical and surgical care of birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and small mammals.

Fly By Night will have a transformative effect on avian welfare by helping us see that the life in the sky-from the under-appreciated pigeon to migratory marathoners-is one of nature's superb art forms, one we can cherish everyday just by looking up,” according to Rita McMahon, director of the Wild Bird Fund.

For more information on the project-including select individual profiles of the pigeons themselves-check out the website here.