Duke Riley, Fly by Night
Duke Riley, Fly by Night

Brooklyn, you don’t want to miss this!

Beginning Saturday, May 7, and continuing every weekend through June 12, Brooklyn will receive a rare and ethereal treat: At dusk, a massive flock of homing pigeons will ascend into the sky over the Brooklyn Navy Yard to present a breathtaking light show like none other.

The weekly event entitled, “Fly By Night,” is taking place Fridays through Sundays. This unprecedented performance is sponsored by Creative Time—the same creative arts organization that brought Brooklyn Kara Walker’s Sugar Baby and Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn—and is the brainchild of professional bird trainer Duke Riley.

Tiny LED lights will be attached to every bird’s legs, and at the call of a whistle, the birds will take flight in what is a well orchestrated and beautifully choreographed dance across the sky above the East River!

Riley, the birds’ trainer, said the pigeons do not see the performance as work, but instead, a fun way to exercise and “spread their wings,” so to speak. He understands them, as he is a bird-whisperer of sorts, beginning in his childhood when he first rescued and rehabilitated a pigeon in his hometown of Providence, RI, and the pigeon kept coming back to visit him.

As an adult and an artist in the 80s, he used to paint pictures of street pigeons. And then he met a friend who actually grew up homing pigeons. Hanging out with his friend, he started learning about the art.

Later, in the early 90s, Riley would decide to actually move into a pigeon coop, a 10’ X 10’ hut on top of a building’s roof, where he ended up living for four years, “And that’s when I started taking [pigeon training] seriously,” he said.

“I moved in because, at the time, rent was only $25 a month, and it had a nice view. I had a desk and a little cot up there, and ran electricity.”

Riley moved to Brooklyn in 1997 and years later, connected with Creative Time.

“I’ve always been very impressed by all of the projects they do; all of the artists they work with are doing really interesting stuff,” said Riley. “ So I called them up and told them I was working on this idea. They connected with the Navy Yard and made it possible.”

The iconic Brooklyn Navy Yard was the ideal setting for Riley’s project, as it was once home to the country’s largest naval fleet of pigeon carriers. Fly By Night reflects back on the largely forgotten culture of homing pigeons through this beautiful and fascinating tribute.

*Note: General admission tickets are fully reserved. For a chance to see a performance, you can join the wait list. To ensure a ticket, become a member of Creative Time and you’ll get two tickets to the Fly By Night performance of your choice (excluding opening weekend)!**

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  1. I’m happy to say Bedford Stuyvesant has or had a daily show of pigeons flying around the Fulton Street-Franklin Avenue Nexus for years. The birds would be let out on a roof top in that area and just swirl around as one body. It was my delight, particular against a summer evening sky.

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