As It Happens

Toronto ex-pat keeps pigeon fancying alive in New York City

Anton van Dalen is one of the last rooftop pigeon keepers in New York's East Village.
(Anton van Dalen )

"Just like the legends of kids raised by wolves," Anton van Dalen says. "I feel like I was raised by pigeons."

The artist, who grew up in Toronto, is one of the last pigeon keepers in New York.

"I grew up in a very Calvinist Dutch community," Van Dalen tells As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch.

"At that time most everybody had at least five children. I think I got a lot more attention from the pigeons than from most people in the family."

(Anton van Dalen )

Van Dalen got his start with pigeons when he arrived with his family in Toronto's High Park neighbourhood. He used the shipping crates that carried his family's belongings from the Netherlands to make his first pigeon coop. 

He now tends to his 43-member flock on the rooftop of his East Village apartment building, where he trains them to fly together — putting on a nightly show for the pedestrians below.

Van Dalen says it's a lost art. It seems New Yorkers aren't as enamoured with pigeon keeping as they used to be.

"People are always off travelling somewhere," he says. "The pigeons needs attention every day. You can't just take off."

He's hoping, though, that along with the rise in urban farming and chicken keeping that pigeon fancying could one day be revived.