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July 2, 2008
A Tip-Off, a Reward, an Arrest for Pigeon Poaching

by Jennifer 8. Lee
Pigeons may be reviled by many and adored by a few. Love them or hate them, those plump gray and white cooing birds are considered property of the state, and it is illegal to harm them.

Thus pigeon-napping is considered a crime (though giving them birth control is not). Two months ago, a formerly homeless street sweeper tipped off law enforcement officials about a pigeon poacher, Isaac Gonzalez, who was spreading vast amounts of seed on the Upper East Side.

Mr. Gonzalez was convicted last week in Criminal Court in Manhattan, and the street sweeper, Desi Stewart, is poised to receive a $2,500 reward offered by an animal advocacy group, In Defense of Animals.

Pigeon poaching has become a big New York problem, as pigeons are netted and taken over the state border to be used for sport and food. In Defense of Animals says it has received more calls about pigeon poaching than any other issue.

Mr. Stewart saw a poster advertising the reward when he was sweeping one morning during his job with the Doe Fund, which employs homeless individuals as street sweepers, said Valerie Sicigano, the East Coast director of In Defense of Animals.

Later that same day, Mr. Stewart witnessed a man spreading bird seed on the ground and netting a large number of pigeons on the Upper East Side. He called the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, which sent an officer to the scene and arrested the pigeon poacher.

Although there are fines for pigeon poaching, the financial penalties are not excessive. "Right now we really would like to toughen up the law so that the fines that people pay are a deterrent," Ms. Sicigano said.

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